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By David K. Li and Alex Johnson
A wildfire fueled by strong winds raced across communities in the Sierra foothills parts in Northern California on Thursday, sending thousands of residents fleeing for their lives, authorities said.
The fire, which was dubbed the Camp Fire, started at 6:30 a.m. (9:30 a.m. ET) near Camp Creek Road in Butte County, north of Sacramento, and spread rapidly, fueled by strong winds, fire officials said.
Its size had more than doubled to more than 18,000 acres, and it was at 20 percent containment, Capt. Rick Cordova, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said at incident command headquarters in Chico on Thursday night.
At a news conference Thursday night, Chief Darren Read, commander of Cal Fire’s Butte County Unit, described “significant” losses of structures and multiple injuries, including injuries to two firefighters.
Residents in the small towns of Pulga and Paradise, about 90 miles north of Sacramento, were told to evacuate on Thursday morning. By the afternoon, residents of Magalia, Concow, Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley had also been told to leave — more than 20,000 people in all, including all patients at Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, the hospital confirmed.
By Thursday night, almost 36,000 customers in Butte and Plumas counties were without power, utility agencies reported. The California Highway Patrol reversed northbound traffic on State Highway 99, diverting all vehicles southward from Skyway.
Kevin Winstead of Paradise fled town Thursday with his family — who had been set to move into a new home in nearby Magalia on Friday.
“We’re just hoping that our brand new home that we were hoping to move into tomorrow is not burned to the ground,” Winstead told KIEM. “We’re kind of all shaking right now.”
“The whole lower side of Paradise is totally engulfed in flames right now,” he said. “All of it is engulfed in flames right now. Not one home will be left standing. I’m devastated.”
Meanwhile, in Southern California, a brushfire that ignited Thursday afternoon quickly grew to encompass 10,000 acres only a few miles from the scene of the shooting at a bar where a gunman killed 12 people in Ventura County.
The Hill Fire sparked in Santa Rosa jumped U.S. Highway 101 at about 2 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) and and in less than an hour was nearing the boundary of Thousand Oaks, fire officials said.
Ventura County emergency officials ordered mandatory evacuations for the communities of Camarillo Springs and Dos Vientes and parts of Bell Canyon — about 8,000 people — along with California State University-Channel Islands and its 7,500 students, faculty and staff. A voluntary evacuation advisory was issued for Point Mugu, part of Naval Base Ventura County.
The advisories were issued primarily for smoke and unhealthy air, the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services said.