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'A wall of fire' in California: 3 wind-driven wildfires gain momentum  9 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

MALIBU, Calif. – Raging wildfires across California have killed at least nine people, driven more than 250,000 people from their homes, and burned 6,700 structures to the ground as fast-moving blazes have scorched more than 140 square miles. 

Near Los Angeles, the affluent beachside town of Malibu was ordered evacuated as a wind-driven blaze jumped the U.S. 101 Freeway and raced toward the sea. 

Two bodies were found Friday in the Malibu area as the Woolsey Fire burned there. Lt. Nani Cholakians of the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office said late Friday that law enforcement notified the agency of two bodies that were possibly related to the fire. 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department confirmed the death investigation early Saturday. Authorities said the bodies were found at 4:43 p.m. Friday in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway. Due to the location and hazards from the fire, homicide detectives didn't plan to the area until around sunrise Saturday. 

Coroner's investigators were waiting to get the all-clear to enter the area. As a result, they could not determine a cause of death or provide further details such as age or gender. 

In Northern California's Butte County, the sheriff's office said investigators found five people dead in vehicles that were torched by the flames of a ferocious wildfire that roared through the town of Paradise. Four others died at undisclosed locations.

Only one of the nine people who died was found inside a home. Butte County Sheriff Korey Honea said that three people were found outside homes and four people inside vehicles. He said another victim was found near a vehicle but outside it.

All the victims were found in Paradise, which was evacuated as a result of the fire.

Authorities say they conducted numerous rescues Friday as they fought the flames, including using helicopters to rescue five people in the nearby community of Magalia.

The sheriff says they have taken 35 reports of missing people and that the number is likely to grow.

Several of the victims were found in the same area of the devastated retirement community that also lost some 2,000 structures. In all, more than 6,700 structures have been destroyed in Northern California, over an area of about 140 square miles, making it the most destructive fire in state history.

"A whole town was wiped out in 24 hours," Rocklin Police officer Jon Gee said of the damage in Paradise. "It's crazy."

More than 250,000 residents have been evacuated as three major fires ravage the Golden State, including the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise.

The blaze, which erupted 80 miles north of Sacramento, quadrupled overnight to nearly 110 square miles, according to fire officials.

Maj. Gen. David Baldwin of the California National Guard said 100 military police were en route to Northern California to help evacuate people from the Paradise area. He said other military personnel were studying satellite imagery to assess the scope of the damage and map the fire.

In Southern California, some thousands of homes were ordered evacuated in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, with the Los Angeles County Fire Department tweeting: "imminent threat." 

Ventura County Fire Department Captain Scott Dettorre warned that as the Woolsey Fire crossed the famous Highway 101, a major transportation artery, “it will make its historic and typical run all the way down Pacific Coast Highway, threatening more homes, more property, more lives,” KTLA-TV reports.

Fire officials ordered the evacuation of all 13,000 residents of the community, which stretches 21 miles along the coastline.

"Fire is burning out of control, heading into populated areas of Malibu," the city of Malibu tweeted. "All residents evacuate now." 

Fire officials have not determined a cause. However, Pacific Gas & Electric Company reported that there was a problem on an electrical transmission line near the site of a Northern California fire about 15 minutes before the blaze broke out. 

In the one-paragraph statement filed with state utility regulators on Thursday, the company said it later discovered damage to a transmission tower near the town of Paradise. 

By midday, Los Angeles County fire officials said the fire had consumed 22 square miles and was "zero contained." 

The Woolsey Fire had exploded to more than 5 square miles Friday morning and was continuing to grow.

Homeowners fleeing the wind-driven blaze around Malibu jammed roadways as the fire crept closer to the wealthy, surfside community, home to numerous movie and TV stars. Celebrity site The Blast said homes belonging to Mel Gibson, Caitlyn Jenner, Lady Gaga, Courteney Cox, Julia Roberts and Patrick Dempsey were located in the evacuation zone.

As cars snarled Pacific Coast Highway, some residents lined up five deep at a gas station for a last chance to get fuel. All were being directed south toward the safety of Santa Monica.

At the Point Dume Village shopping Center north of the famed Malibu pier, business was brisk at a coffee bar, the Cafe De La Plage. The customers all fit into the look of the locals – T-shirts, shorts and sandals – but many of them were evacuees who had fled their homes the night before in the belief Malibu would be a safe haven.

“I am just very unhappy,“ said James Collins, 48, from the small community of Cornell. He said he had been evacuated at 4 a.m. but he was taking it in stride, noting the rest of the nation has had its share of natural disasters recently.

“Other people have rain. We have fire,“ Collins said.

A pair of Dutch bicyclists in a trek from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego were trying to stay ahead of the flames. They had gotten on the road before the highway closures and peddled as smoke billowed in the hills nearby.

“We are not afraid,” said one of them, Twan Goense, 24, of Delft, the Netherlands.

The fire also destroyed Western Town, a mock Wild West town on the Paramount Ranch that has been used as a movie set since 1927, according to a tweet from the National Park Service's Santa Monica Mountain facility, which oversees the ranch.

A long list of actors, from W.C. Fields, to Gary Cooper to Bob Hope to Bradley Cooper, have appeared in movies such as "Trail of the Lonesome Pine," "A Farewell to Arms" and "An American Sniper" that used the set in Agoura. Television shows such as the "The Cisco Kid" and "Dr. Quinn" were also filmed there.

As the fires closed in on Malibu, one resident on Twitter pleaded for help in evacuating 40 horses from a farm, The Malibu Times reports.

Pepperdine University shut down its Malibu and Calabasas campuses and initiated shelter-in-place protocols as the fire roared southward, sweeping into the Santa Monica mountains.

The Woolsey fire was one of three ravaging the state, with the northern California town of Paradise largely destroyed overnight.

The swift-moving Camp Fire moved Friday morning into the eastern side of Chico, a city with a population of around 90,000. Fire officials said strong winds had hampered efforts to drop retardant by aircraft.

As the blaze roared into Paradise, it turned escape routes into tunnels of fire as the entire community of 27,000 residents was ordered to evacuate. 

On Thursday, as flames engulfed Paradise, frantic residents racing to safety plunged into the thick smoke that darkened the daytime sky and made driving difficult.

“We were surrounded by fire, we were driving through fire on each side of the road,” said police officer Mark Bass, who lives in Paradise and works in neighboring Chico.

Bass evacuated his family and then returned to the fire to help rescue several disabled residents, including a man trying to carry his bedridden wife to safety. “It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us.”

Sherri Pritchard said she only had time to grab a few pictures before fleeing with her family and dogs.

"It was crazy, because when we were sitting in traffic people were panicking," she said. "It was chaos. I couldn't believe what people were doing." 

Reality TV celebrity Kim Kardashian-West, who lives in an area known as Hidden Hills in Los Angeles county, was among those forced to evacuate as the Woolsey Fire exploded to 8,000 acres. She had been filming aerial shots in her private plane earlier for her Instagram Stories and realized her own home was threatened. Just landed back home and had 1 hour to pack up & evacuate our home. I pray everyone is safe,” she wrote.

Friday morning, fire officials reported that the fire had jumped Highway 101 near the city of Calabasas.

“I just want the fires to be over with,” said Kristen Reichenbach, a 35-year-old nurse from Westlake Village. “Then we can just start rebuilding things and get back to our new normal, after what all has happened."

On Thursday, Reichenbach and some colleagues from Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks attended the candlelight vigil for the Borderline shooting victims. The son of one of their coworkers, 21-year-old Jake Dunham, was killed in the attack.

"I just want all the bad to end so that we can start moving forward," Reichenbach said. 

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