Death Toll Reaches 9 in Raging Butte County Wildfire

The Camp Fire has destroyed more than 6,700 structures and burned at least 100,000 acres, officials say

Authorities say nine people have been confirmed dead in the raging Camp Fire in Northern California, which has become the state's most destructive wildfire.

Butte County Sheriff Korey Honea said Friday that some people were found inside their cars and others were found outside vehicles. He says he doesn’t have all the details on the circumstances of the deaths.

Sheriff’s officials earlier had reported six deaths.

The wildfire burning in the town of Paradise late Friday had charred at least 100,000 acres and is 20 percent contained, Cal Fire officials said.

At least 52,000 people have been evacuated. In addition, Cal Fire reported more than 6,400 residential structures have been destroyed and 260 commercial structures are lost.

Paradise is 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.

All of the city's 27,000 residents were ordered to evacuate on Thursday as the wildfire quickly turned into an inferno, setting off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got stuck 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.

"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It's that kind of devastation," said Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The massive blaze spread north 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 Cpt. Bill Murphy said.

Heavy smoke from the fire prompted the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to issue an air quality advisory and a Spare the Air alert for Friday. The agency’s advice: "If the smell of smoke is present, it is important that Bay Area residents protect their health by avoiding exposure. If possible, stay inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside."

The winds calmed down in the valley, but they were still shifting and erratic, with speeds of up to 45 mph along ridge tops, he said.

Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it experienced a problem on an electrical transmission line near the site of the massive fire before it exploded in size.

The company said in a one-paragraph summary filed Thursday with state utility regulators that it had experienced an outage on the line about 15 minutes before the fire started. The company said it later observed damage to a transmission tower on the line near Paradise.

In Southern California, about two-thirds of the city of Malibu was ordered evacuated early Friday as a ferocious wildfire roared toward the beachside community that is home to about 13,000 residents, some of them Hollywood celebrities.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department tweeted that the fire raging through the Santa Monica Mountains was headed to the ocean. Another fire was burning farther west in Ventura County, also moving toward the ocean.

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.

Those looking for loved ones can check with or contact the Sheriff's Office at 530-538-7322 to request a welfare check or file a missing person report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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