Many Twitter users in California are using the hashtag #campfire in their tweets about the fast-moving tornado fire which prompted a mass evacuation of Paradise in Butte County
Fast-moving blaze in north of state threatens several communities and forces some to drive through flames to escape
The blaze destroyed an unknown number of structures and injured some civilians, but the extent of their injuries was not immediately known, said California department of forestry and fire protection Capt John Gaddie.
Read more As people fled in cars, some abandoned their vehicles, running from encroaching flames as they held babies and pets in their arms, said Gina Oviedo, who described a devastating scene as she evacuated the town of Paradise. Flames were engulfing homes, utility poles were crashing down and things were exploding, she said.
Mr McLean estimated that a couple of thousand structures were destroyed in the town of 27,000 residents about 290 kilometres northeast of San Francisco. The extent of the injuries and specific damage count was not known as officials could not access the dangerous area.
The community of Paradise is destroyed: Thousands displaced in California wildfire
Fire officials were working on a plan to rescue patients from a hospital after officials tried to evacuate them but had to turn back because of gridlocked traffic.
Its a very dangerous and very serious situation, the Butte county sheriff, Kory Honea, told the Associated Press. Im driving through fire as we speak. Were doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas.
Were getting them on other vehicles with room. Were working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is if you can evacuate, you need to evacuate, Honea said.
An American flag waves in the wind as a home burns during the Camp fire in Paradise. More than 18,000 acres have been scorched in a matter of hours burning with it a hospital, a gas station and dozens of homes
Kim Kardashian forced to flee California wildfires as blaze becomes deadly and thousands evacuate
All of Paradise, a town of about 27,000 people 180 miles (290 kilometers) north-east of San Francisco, was ordered to evacuate, said the Butte county sheriffs spokeswoman, Miranda Bowersox.
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The wildfire was reported at 6.30am, Rick Carhart, a Cal Fire spokesman, said. Within roughly six hours, the fire had grown to more than 26 square miles (69 square kilometers), said Gaddie.
Large fire in California forces tens of thousands to evacuate
The blaze is being driven by fairly strong winds, Carhart said. Its really dry and we have low humidity and unfortunately those are great conditions for a fire to spread.
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A hospital and several schools were evacuated as thick grey smoke and ash filled the sky above Paradise and could be seen from miles away.
Video: Very dangerous northern California wildfire blankets sky in thick, black smoke
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Thick smoke can be seen in images from social media. Photograph: Social Media/Reuters 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. She said a group of 20 other patients were initially evacuated but then returned to the facility because of gridlocked traffic.
"It's a very dangerous and very serious situation," Sheriff Kory Honea said, adding, "I'm driving through fire as we speak. We're doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas."
Video: This is what residents fleeing the Camp Fire in Paradise saw as flames burned along escape route
Camp Fire Northern California: Video shows drivers dramatic escape
Some of the hospitals outbuildings, such as out-patient clinics caught fire and were damaged but the main hospital was not, said Kinney. Four of the hospitals employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California highway patrol officers, she added.
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.
Everything destroyed as wildfire scorches Paradise, California
She and her husband knocked on doors, yelled and screamed to alert as many of the residents of 53 mobile homes and recreational vehicles as possible, Bernacett said.
My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hills on fire. God help us! Bernacett said before breaking down crying. She and her husband grabbed their dog, jumped in their pickup truck and drove through flames before getting to safety, she said.
Every engine that we could put on the fire is on the fire right now, and more are coming, he said. There are dozens of strike teams that were bringing in from all parts of the state.
The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for fire dangers in many areas of the state, saying low humidity and strong winds were expected to continue through Friday evening.