Law enforcement authorities in northern California said Friday night that nine people have died in a wildfire, one of three in the state that have leveled thousands of homes and forced widespread evacuations.
The Butte County Sheriff's office earlier Friday said five of the victims were found dead in vehicles as they attempted to flee Paradise, a mountain town north of Sacramento. Paradise has been mostly destroyed in a quick-moving fire that forced thousands of residents to flee.
The blaze, which broke out Thursday, had nearly quadrupled overnight and has since grown to 362 square kilometers and was rapidly approaching the outskirts of the nearby city of Chico. Officials said the fire is only 5 percent contained.
In addition to the five people found dead in their vehicles, many people were forced to abandon their cars, which got struck in gridlocked traffic, and run for their lives.
California fire officials said crews gave up fighting the flames Thursday and instead helped people get out alive.
"These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday,'' said Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "The town is devastated, everything is destroyed," he said.
Friday night, Cal Fire officials said more than 6,700 buildings have been destroyed, most of them homes.
With fires also burning in Southern California , state officials put the total number of people forced from their homes at about 250,000. Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Paradise, located nearly 145 kilometers north of Sacramento, was home to more than 26,000 residents, according to its website.
There were no signs of life Friday on the road to Paradise except for the occasional bird chirp. A thick, yellow haze from the fire hung in the air and gave the appearance of twilight in the middle of the day.
"Right now, Mother Nature is in charge," Cal Fire spokesman Bryce Bennet told The Sacramento Bee newspaper.
Evacuations were ordered for the east side of Chico, a city of about 93,000 people, as flames from the blaze were being driven by 56-kilometer-per-hour winds.
An undetermined number of civilians and firefighters have been injured and Maclean said earlier it could take days to determine the number of fatalities.
California's acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the northern part of the state to help facilitate rescue and recovery efforts.
The fire, known as the Camp Fire, evolved quickly into the fiercest of the wind-driven fires now plaguing California in what has been one of the worst years for wildfires in the state.
Another fire, known as the Woolsey Fire, prompted officials to call for the voluntary evacuation of some 75,000 homes in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of a mass shooting this week in which 12 people were killed. The mayor of Thousand Oaks, where the shooting occurred, said three-quarters of his city was under fire evacuation orders and that most likely included people affected by the shooting.
The fire was also burning in parts of Los Angeles County.
Fire officials said strong Santa Ana winds continued to fuel the Woolsey Fire overnight, doubling its size to nearly 3,248 hectares.
"If you've been told to go, get out of there," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Chief John Benedict.
Also burning farther west in Ventura County was the Hill Fire, which fire officials said burned nearly 4,050 hectares by Thursday night. Fire officials said it was also moving toward the ocean.
Some information for this report came from AP.