'It Is Pure Chaos Up Here': Camp Fire Injures Residents, Forces Thousands to Flee as Flames Invade Paradise, California

Sean Breslin
Published: November 8, 2018

A fast-moving wildfire sparked Thursday morning in Northern California prompted numerous evacuations, including several entire towns.

Citing the California Highway Patrol, CBS Sacramento said at least five injuries were reported, and the Associated Press reported an unknown number of structures were destroyed by the so-called Camp Fire.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office told the AP that a mandatory evacuation order was issued for the entire town of Paradise, which is home to about 27,000 people and is north of Sacramento. Other towns being evacuated include Centerville and Butte Creek, northwest of Paradise.

Officials confirmed to the AP that some residents who attempted to escape the fire in their vehicles were then forced to flee on foot – some holding pets and even babies in their grasp – as the flames drew closer. With few options out of Paradise, roads quickly became gridlocked, and abandoned cars left in the middle of the road only made problems worse.

"It is pure chaos up here," CHP public information officer Ryan Lambert told the Los Angeles Times.

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Fueled by dry, windy conditions, the Camp Fire quickly spread to more than 28 square miles within about eight hours and forced the closure of several roads, according to Cal Fire. The fire is 0 percent contained and it's not yet known what sparked it.

Evacuations were also ordered in the nearby hamlets of Pulga and Concow. Structures have been destroyed by the inferno, Cal Fire public information officer Rick Carhart told the San Jose Mercury News, but authorities have not said how many.

"It’s bad," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told the Chico Enterprise-Record. "We’re trying to get as many people out as quickly as possible and save as many lives as we can."

In Concow, some residents, like Colton Percifield, were forced to drive through the flames and thick smoke just to survive.

"The hardest part was there was no visibility ... it was pitch black," he told The Weather Channel in a phone interview Thursday night. He also said many of the homes in his neighborhood were destroyed by the fire, but he was able to safely escape.

Feather River Hospital, a retirement home and Ponderosa Elementary School in Paradise were evacuated, the Enterprise-Record also said, and Butte College was closed.

The rapid growth of the fire took many residents by surprise. Shary Bernacett said she and her husband "knocked on doors, yelled and screamed" to alert as many of the residents of the mobile home park they manage in Paradise just minutes before the fire arrived, she told the AP.

"My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hill's on fire. God help us!" Bernacett, in tears, told the AP.

The Bernacetts managed to escape the fire with their dog but had to drive through 12-foot-high flames before reaching safety on Highway 99.

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At least 24,000 homes and businesses, or about half of all customers, are without power in Butte County, according to PowerOutage.us. Those who have safely fled the wildfire were asked to register on the American Red Cross's Safe and Well page to let friends and family know they successfully evacuated.

Acting governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for Butte County, which will make more resources available for emergency responders.

Much of the state is under red flag warnings. Winds will climb through the day, said weather.com meteorologist Jonathan Belles. Sustained winds from the east will increase to about 30 to 35 mph with higher winds in the prone canyons. Some isolated wind gusts might reach 60 mph Thursday evening or overnight.

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