California wildfires: Nine dead and more than 150,000 evacuated

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BBC.COM

At least nine people have been killed and more than 150,000 evacuated as two big wildfires rage in California, officials say

Five people of the dead were found in cars in a town that was destroyed by the Camp Fire in the state’s north.

West of Los Angeles, the Woolsey Fire jumped a major highway and headed into coastal areas, including the town of Malibu where some homes are ablaze.

Both fires are moving fast, fanned by strong winds.

Where is the Woolsey Fire spreading to?

The blaze spread rapidly overnight and jumped Highway 101, a major route west of Los Angeles.

At midday on Friday local time (20:00 GMT), it covered about 14,000 acres (5,665 hectares).

The fire broke out near Thousand Oaks, an area about 40 miles (64km) north-west of central Los Angeles where an attacker killed 12 people on Wednesday, prompting the evacuation of 75,000 homes.

Thousands more residents have now been ordered to evacuate from several more towns to the west of Thousand Oaks, including Calabasas immediately south of Highway 101 and Malibu on the coast, as well as from the western edge of Los Angeles.

Calabasas and Malibu are home to numerous celebrities and some have been posting on social media, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian. On Instagram she urged people to “pray for Calabasas”. “Just landed back home and had one hour to pack up and evacuate our home. I pray everyone is safe,” she wrote.

Her husband, the rapper Kanye West, said their family was “safe and close”.

The singer Cher, who is performing in Las Vegas, tweeted that she was worried about her Malibu home.

The singer Lady Gaga said she had evacuated her Malibu home, posting a video on Instagram that showed dark smoke billowing overhead.

Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro tweeted that he had evacuated, leaving behind his “Bleak House” museum collection of fantasy and horror memorabilia.

The fire has also reportedly destroyed one of the sets for the TV series Westworld.

What has happened in northern California?

The 20,000 acre (8,100 hectare) Camp Fire, which started on Thursday near Camp Creek, has destroyed the town of Paradise.

The Butte County Sheriff’s office said five victims had been burned to death in their cars and could not immediately be identified.

The fire is being driven west by 35 mph (56 km/h) winds, fire officials said.

Fire officials have issued evacuation notices for parts of Chico, a town of 93,000 people north of Sacramento.

Driving through walls of flame

By the BBC’s James Cook in northern California

Driven by hot desert winds, the wildfire raced into Paradise, devouring the equivalent of 80 football pitches a minute.

The town sits on a ridge and the few roads out quickly became clogged with traffic as 27,000 people tried to flee, many driving through walls of flame.

Some motorists abandoned their cars and ran for their lives with children and pets in their arms.

Residents are now using social media to search for missing friends and family members.

In Paradise, rescuers used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out of the way in order to reach a hospital and evacuate patients as the fire engulfed the building, Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter said.

“There’s nothing left standing,” said Scott Maclean, the state’s forestry and fire protection spokesman.

The two blazes are among 16 currently active fires in California. Officials have put most of Northern California under a Red Flag Warning, which means “extreme fire behaviour” can occur within 24 hours.

The region has grappled with serious wildfires – including the worst in the state’s history, the Mendocino and Thomas fires – on and off since 2017.

 

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