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
Driven by strong winds and dry conditions, the blaze dubbed the Camp Fire roared through the town of Paradise, about 85 milesnorth of Sacramento, forcing the population to flee in a chaotic mass evacuation.
"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, its that kind of devastation," said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean late on Thursday. "The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out."
Three fast-paced wildfires are threatening millions of California residents on Friday as the notorious Santa Ana winds drive flames out of control. Firefighters are seen battling the Camp Fire in Butte County north of Sacramento
Camp Fire inferno: North California town of Paradise wiped out as thousands flee
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.
Meanwhile, a third fire is raging in the northern part of the state in Butte County where dry winds have swept the Camp Fire across at least 110 square miles north of Sacramento, after quadrupling in size overnight Thursday.
Three out-of-control wildfires continue path of devastation across wide swaths of California
Butte County CalFire Chief Darren Read said at a news conference that two firefighters and multiple residents were injured.
An aerial view of the Hill Fire in Southern California shows smoke rising out of Camarillo after the blaze jumped over Highway 101, threatening thousands of homes and forcing a number of communities to evacuate
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As she fled, Gina Oviedo described a devastating scene in which flames engulfed homes, sparked explosions and toppled utility poles.
A second fire is alight nearby in the Santa Rosa Valley east of Camarillo, west of Simi Valley near Newbury Park and Thousand Oaks, the community still reeling from a mass shooting on Wednesday night.
"Things started exploding," Ms Oviedo said. "People started getting out of their vehicles and running."
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"Its a very dangerous and very serious situation," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. "Im driving through fire as we speak. Were doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas."
The blaze erupted as windy weather swept the state, creating extreme fire danger. A wind-whipped fire north of Los Angeles in Ventura County burned about 15,000 acres and at least one home in a matter of hours. It prompted evacuations of a mobile home park, a state university campus and a small community. A nearby blaze was smaller at less than 1,000 acres (1.5 square miles) but moving quickly.
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Acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the fire-stricken area in Northern California.
Video: Camp Fire turns fatal in Paradise, California
Impenetrable Smoke, Embers From Camp Fire Adding To Chaos As California Town Burns
Shari Bernacett said her husband tried to get people to leave the Paradise mobile home park they manage. He "knocked on doors, yelled and screamed" to alert as many residents as possible, Ms Bernacett said.
"My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hills on fire. God help us!" she 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.
Video: FLEEING PARADISE: Raw video of evacuees fleeing Paradise from Camp Wildfire
Terrifying videos posted on social media showed cars driving along roads that looked like tunnels of fire with flames on both sides of the road.
Regardless of where it lands on the list, its clear that the Camp Fire has irrevocably changed the lives of thousands of people who stood—or still stand—in its path. The fire began in the Plumas National Forest, where it was first reported around 6:30 a.m. PT on Thursday. It grew explosively throughout the day as it marched westward. By 9:30 a.m., it had consumed at least 5,000 acres. Eleven hours later, that total was up to at least 20,000 acres, the flames urged on by powerful winds across a dry landscape.
Concerned friends and family posted frantic messages on Twitter and other sites saying they were looking for loved ones, particularly seniors who lived at retirement homes or alone.
Among them was Kim Curtis, who was searching for her grandmother, who told family at 8 a.m on Thursday that she would flee her Paradise home in her Buick with her cat. Her grandmother, who is in her 70s and lives alone, never showed up up at a meeting spot in Chico, though.
"Weve just been posting all over social media. And just praying for a miracle, honestly," said Curtis, who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
California wildfires: Tens of thousands forced to flee as entire city pretty much destroyed by blaze
"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 sheriff confirmed reports that evacuees had to abandon their vehicles. Rescuers were trying to put them in other vehicles, he said.
"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.
Portions of southern California have also remained under siege by two large brush fires as some 75,000 homes have been placed under evacuation orders along the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
The wildfire was reported around daybreak. Within six hours, it had grown to more than 26 square miles, Gaddie said.
Fire officials said the flames were being fuelled by winds, low humidity, dry air and severely parched brush and ground from months without rain.
"Basically, we havent had rain since last May or before that," said Read, the fire chief. "Everything is a very receptive fuel bed. Its a rapid rate of spread."
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At the hospital in Paradise, more than 60 patients were evacuated to other facilities and some buildings caught fire and were damaged. But the main facility, Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, was not, spokeswoman Jill Kinney said.
Some of the patients were initially turned around during their evacuation because of gridlocked traffic and later airlifted to other hospitals, along with staff, Kinney said.
Video: Residents describe evacuating from Paradise as Camp Fire rages
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Four hospital employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said.
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.