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Fire tears through Paradise, California on Thursday. AP
Natural Disaster

Fast-moving wildfires kill at least five people and force 157,000 to evacuate their homes in US

Fires are burning across the western US state of California.

A NORTHERN CALIFORNIA wildfire that moved so quickly that firefighters didn’t even try to stop it killed five people, authorities said on Friday.

A day after it began, the blaze near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 285 square kilometeres, and investigators found the dead in vehicles torched by the flames.

“There was really no firefight involved,” said Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, explaining that crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people get out alive.

“These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday.”

With fires also burning in southern California, state officials put the total number of people forced from their homes at 157,000.

‘Like bombs’

Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

When Paradise was evacuated, the order set off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got struck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot.

People reported seeing much of the community go up in flames, including homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement center.

Rural areas fared little better. Many homes have propane tanks that were exploding amid the flames.

“They were going off like bombs,” said Karen Auday, who escaped to a nearby town.

McLean estimated that the lost buildings numbered in the thousands in Paradise, about 290 kilometers northeast of San Francisco.

Strong winds

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,” he said.

The massive blaze that hit Paradise spread north on Friday, prompting officials to order the evacuation of Stirling City and Inskip, two communities north of Paradise along the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The wind-driven flames also spread to the west and reached the edge of Chico, a city of 90,000 people.

Firefighters were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, where evacuation orders remained in place Friday, Cal Fire Captain Bill Murphy said.

The National Weather Service issued extreme fire-danger warnings in many areas of the state, saying low humidity and strong winds were expected to continue through the evening.

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Author
Associated Foreign Press
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