California wildfires: 150,000 evacuated as death toll climbs

At least nine people have been killed and more than 150,000 evacuated as two big wildfires rage in California, officials say.

Five people of the dead were found in cars in a town that was destroyed by the Camp Fire in the state’s north.

West of Los Angeles, the Woolsey Fire jumped a major highway and headed into coastal areas, including the town of Malibu where some homes are ablaze.

Both fires are moving fast, fanned by strong winds.

The blaze has spread rapidly overnight, fanned by strong winds, and has jumped Highway 101, a major route west of Los Angeles.

At midday on Friday local time, it covered about 5665 hectares.

The fire broke out near Thousand Oaks, an area about 64km north-west of downtown Los Angeles where an attacker killed 12 people on Wednesday, prompting the evacuation of 75,000 homes.

Residents have now been ordered to evacuate from several more towns to the west of Thousand Oaks, including Calabasas immediately south of Highway 101 and Malibu on the coast, as well as from the western edge of Los Angeles.

Calabasas and Malibu are home to numerous celebrities and some have been posting on social media, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian. On Instagram she urged people to “pray for Calabasas”. “Just landed back home and had one hour to pack up and evacuate our home. I pray everyone is safe,” she wrote.

Her husband, the rapper Kanye West, said their family was “safe and close”.

The 8100 hectare Camp Fire, which started on Thursday near Camp Creek, has destroyed the town of Paradise, where at least five people were killed.

The Butte County Sheriff’s office said the victims had been burned to death in their cars and could not immediately be identified.

The fire is being driven west by 56km/h winds, fire officials said.

Fire officials have issued evacuation notices for parts of Chico, a town of 93,000 people north of Sacramento.

Thousands of people were evacuated from Paradise, home to 26,000 people, including from schools and hospitals.

“There’s nothing left standing,” said Scott Maclean, the state’s forestry and fire protection spokesman.

Accidents gridlocked routes out of the town and residents abandoned their cars and fled on foot carrying children and pets, Reuters quoted local officials as saying.

Rescuers used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out of the way in order to reach a hospital and evacuate patients as the fire engulfed the building, Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter said.

At least one nursing home and the Feather River Hospital were evacuated and several homes were on fire, according to the Sacramento Bee, and the region is covered with thick, dark smoke.

A spokesman for the hospital operator, Dignity Health, reportedly told Action News Now that Feather River was later destroyed.

Thousands are also without power in the region, which is just north of Sacramento.

One Paradise resident who fled the encroaching blaze told the Bee: “It was so hot. You could feel it.”

Others described watching flames consume their property as they evacuated.

The blaze is one of 16 currently active in California. Officials have put most of Northern California is under a Red Flag Warning, which means “extreme fire behaviour” can occur within 24 hours.

On social media, many have been sharing images of highways and roads flanked by fire or covered in heavy smoke and asking for help to evacuate friends and family.

Resident Shari Bernacett told the Associated Press that she “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to get mobile home residents to leave as fire consumed the hillside.

“The whole hill’s on fire,” she said while crying. “God help us!”

The region has grappled with serious wildfires – including the worst in the state’s history, the Mendocino and Thomas fires – on and off since 2017.

– BBC

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