OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) – Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate a fast-moving wildfire that exploded in size Thursday, threatening several Northern California communities and forcing panicked residents to race to help neighbors and drive through walls of flames to escape.
The blaze destroyed an unknown number of structures and injured some civilians, but the extent of their injuries was not immediately known, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. John Gaddie
As people fled in cars, some abandoned their vehicles, running from encroaching flames as they held babies in their arms and pets, said Gina Oviedo, who described a devastating scene as she evacuated the town of Paradise. Flames were engulfing homes, utility poles were crashing down and things were exploding, she said.
“It’s a very dangerous and very serious situation,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told The Associated Press. “I’m driving through fire as we speak. We’re doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas.”
He confirmed reports that evacuees had to abandon their vehicles as they fled the scene.
“We’re getting them on other vehicles with room. We’re working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is if you can evacuate, you need to evacuate,” Honea said.