Nine dead as California fires continue to rage

Nellie Chapman
November 10, 2018

During the height of the blaze, firefighters completely surrendered firefighting duties in order to focus on rescuing people.

The LA County Sheriff's Office said it was receiving "many emergent phone calls" from people who "need our help to evacuate" and urged motorists in the area to be aware of emergency vehicles.

In addition to the five people found dead in their vehicles, many were forced to abandon their cars and run for their lives down the sole road through the mountain town.

'It's a very risky and very serious situation, ' Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told The Associated Press.

Rural areas fared little better.

Morgan Mason said her father told her that he could hear propane tanks blowing up all over Paradise this morning.

The one thing keeping her calm was talking to her husband, who was meeting them in the nearby town of Chico, on the phone.

"Anything to bring more attention to Paradise".

'It's devastating. It's like "welcome to hell,"' resident Cynthia Ball said about the dual disasters while she was outside the teenage centre serving as a shelter for evacuees.

On Thursday, acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the fire-stricken area in Northern California and requested a presidential disaster declaration, saying that unsafe weather conditions were expected to last several days.

Meanwhile, portions of Southern California remained under siege early Friday as two large fires threatened numerous Ventura County communities.

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Cal Fire Captain Bill Murphy said winds have calmed down in the valley but there are "shifting, erratic winds" with speeds of up to 45mph along ridge tops. Its rapid growth and early-morning arrival means that residents didn't have much time to leave or firefighters time to prepare, leaving them to play a game of catch-up against an extremely active fire. Fire surrounded the evacuation route, and drivers panicked. Some crashed and others left their vehicles by the roadside.

There was no estimated time to contain the fire, but officials said they would hold a daily news conference from the same location and time if conditions permit, until the fire is out. Miller jumped in her boyfriend's rickety pickup truck, which was low on gas and equipped with a bad transmission. She instantly found herself stuck in gridlock. "She said, 'I don't know if I can do this.' Her son said, 'Mom you have to, you have to drive through the flames'".

Many abandoned their cars and trucks on the side of the road. While walking, a stranger in the traffic jam rolled down her window asked Miller if she needed help. Miller at first she scoffed at the notion of getting back in a stopped auto.

"I feel very vulnerable posting this, but I feel I should", she wrote in the post.

Back in Butte County, concerned friends and family posted frantic messages on Twitter and other sites saying they were looking for loved ones, particularly seniors who lived at retirement homes or alone. Residents awoke to the stench of smoke and the morning horizon drenched in an ashen-orange that was hard to see or drive through, hindering evacuations.

Chico police officer John Barker and his partner evacuated several seniors from an apartment complex.

"The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out".

"I just wonder how many people didn't make it, and how many older folks and people with children in their cars didn't make it", she said.

Flames driven by powerful winds torched at least 150 homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and prompting orders for 250,000 people - including some celebrities - to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea.

In just 24 hours, the disastrous Camp Fire in Northern California has burned at the rate of nearly an acre per second and scorched an area more than twice the size of San Francisco.

Overnight, the so-called Woolsey Fire reached the city of Agoura Hills and raced through Oak Park, in the adjacent Ventura County.

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