California wildfire roars to life, forces thousands to flee

FIRE PIC 1 CAL FIRE BUTTEcredit Cal Fire Butte County

"When this fire started this morning wind speeds were 35 to 40 miles per hour gusts", Cal Fire spokesperson Lynne Tolmachoff said.

Evacuation orders are in place for the town of Paradise, home to around 26,000 people, as well as Magalia, Concow, Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley areas.

The Adventist Health Feather River Hospital in Paradise evacuated staff and 41 patients to other hospitals, given its close proximity to the fire, said Jill Kinney, an Adventist Health spokeswoman.

With limited escape routes from the town, which is built on a ridge, traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock, with residents forced to abandon vehicles and run from the flames carrying children and pets, officials said. "It's really dry and we have low humidity - and unfortunately those are great conditions for a fire to spread". By late this afternoon, the fire had topped 18,000 acres.

A local fire official said there were multiple injuries among civilians and firefighters.

Video footage taken by ABC Redding affiliate KRCR showed the hospital surrounded by thick smoke as the fire illuminated the darkened sky in the background. Even though Chico is more than 150 miles north of San Francisco, a smoke advisory has been issued for the entire Bay Area, as well as other parts of Northern California.

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The Camp Fire was the fiercest of several wind-driven blazes that erupted across the state on Thursday.

Shari Bernacett said she and her husband tried to get people to leave the mobile home park they manage in Paradise and had minutes to evacuate. Emergency crews were working to help people evacuate there, he said.

Among them was Kim Curtis, who was searching for her grandmother, who told family at 8 a.m. today that she would flee her Paradise home in her Buick with her cat.

"The whole hill's on fire", she said while crying.

Large swaths of the state are under a "red flag" fire hazard warning, and the National Weather Service Sacramento office forecasts the blaze will continue through Friday night.

Four of the hospital's employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said.

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