3 California wildfires destroy thousands of structures and force emergency evacuations

A series of fast-moving wildfires are racing up and down California early Friday, destroying thousands of structures in their paths and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate through flame-lined streets.

Fanned by high winds and low humidity, the fires spread rapidly Thursday and overnight Friday.

The threat continues Friday morning, with more than 20 million people under red flag warnings.

Here’s what we know about the trio of fires:

The Camp Fire

Tanah Clunies-Ross woke up in the dark to what sounded like lumps of coal raining down on her Northern California home. Within minutes, her family and thousands of people were racing to escape the raging flames of the Camp Fire.

“The smell of the smoke and realizing the smoke was a lot closer than I thought and then seeing flames up to my knees. … I lost it,” she said.

Her family was among the 40,000 residents forced to evacuate in Butte County, California, after the fire broke out early Thursday, “growing uncontrollably” at a rate of about 80 football fields per minute. So far, it has burned through 20,000 acres, injured firefighters and residents, and prompted hospitals and schools to quickly evacuate.

The full extent of the destruction is still unknown, but authorities believe up to 1,000 structures have been destroyed — most of those in Paradise, a town of 26,000 people about 85 miles north of Sacramento, a Cal Fire spokesman said.

Paradise resident Whitney Vaughn described the chaotic evacuations on roads lined with burning trees.

“People were abandoning their cars and running with their babies and kids. This was right before someone rammed our vehicle with theirs, trying to get through,” Vaughn wrote on Facebook. “There were no firefighters in sight. I am hoping all of these people made it out.”

Multiple injuries have been reported by both civilians and firefighters, Cal Fire spokesman John Gaddie said. The extent of their injuries is unknown.

Late Thursday, more than 2,200 firefighters were battling the flames and the fire remains uncontained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the area and has requested federal funds to help those impacted by wildfires in the state. Newsom is serving as acting governor while Gov. Jerry Brown is traveling out of state.

Authorities fear the fire, fueled by strong winds, could reach Chico — a city of 90,000 people where many Butte County families already have evacuated to shelters.

The Woolsey Fire

In Southern California, the night sky burned orange as the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties grew thousands of acres overnight, exploding from 2,000 acres to 7,500 in a matter of hours. Mandatory evacuations were in effect early Friday, and 30,000 homes were under threat from the blaze. Some structures have already been destroyed, Cal Fire reported.

Hidden Hills resident Adrienne Janic gave her home over to firefighters late Thursday to use as a command center. Her deck provided a strong vantage point to monitor the spread of the fire.

By 1 a.m. (4 a.m. ET), more firefighters arrived as the flames closed in on Janic’s street.
“While a lot of my yard and neighbors’ yards burned, the firefighters saved our homes,” Janic tweeted just after 2 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) Friday. “We are still not out of the woods yet.”

The Hill Fire

Just down the road from the Thousand Oaks bar where 12 people were killed in a mass shooting, residents were also grappling with the Hill Fire, which quickly spread to cover 10,000 acres, Ventura County Fire Department officials said.

Just 12 minutes after it started Thursday afternoon, the flames spread across the 101 Freeway, leaving several drivers temporarily stranded. The highway is expected to remain closed Friday morning, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said.

Residents took to social media to share their views of the flames nearly consuming the hillside in Newbury Park, which borders Thousands Oaks to the west.

While no homes or businesses have been lost due to the fast-moving fire, a number of RVs and outbuildings have been burned and a firefighter suffered a minor injury, authorities said.

Fire officials anticipate the fire will reach the Pacific Ocean.