Firefighters try to contain a fire so it doesn't spread to a neighboring building as the Camp Fire burned in the community of Paradise on Nov. 8, 2018.  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Firefighters try to contain a fire so it doesn't spread to a neighboring building as the Camp Fire burned in the community of Paradise on Nov. 8, 2018.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Nine Confirmed Dead in Rapidly Growing Butte County Fire

Nine Confirmed Dead in Rapidly Growing Butte County Fire

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Editor's Note: This post is no longer being updated. For the latest information on the Camp Fire, please click here.

Updated Saturday, 7:30 a.m.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office, at a press conference Friday evening, reported that nine people have been confirmed dead in the Camp Fire, which devastated the town of Paradise. Four of the victims appeared to have been trapped in their vehicles as they tried to escape the blaze, with one victim found just outside the vehicle. None of the victims have been identified.

Additionally, there have been three firefighters injured.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said earlier in an interview with KQED he had heard many reports of people not being able to make contact with friends and family members, and said his department was also trying to find those individuals.

“Last night we had about 600 calls from people requesting that we do welfare checks on individuals ... friends and family that they could not make contact with," Honea said. "We have been working through that list. Late last night we had whittled that list down to about 400. I know that we’ve continued to get those calls and we continue to work on them.”

As of Friday night, that had been winnowed down to just 35 people unaccounted for. The sheriff's office has requested those who left the area safely to register on the Red Cross Safe and Well site.

The blaze, about 180 highway miles northeast of San Francisco, has nearly quadrupled in size since Thursday night. By 6 p.m. Friday night, 52,000 people had been evacuated and 6,713 buildings had been destroyed, including over 6,400 homes, according to Cal Fire.

"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It's that kind of devastation," said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean.

The agency also said three firefighters have been injured.

The Camp Fire, which was first reported Thursday about 6:30 a.m., has grown to about 100,000 acres and is 20 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. More than 2,300 personnel are fighting the blaze.

Evacuation orders were established Thursday for Paradise, Magalia, Concow, Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley. Forest Ranch is under evacuation warning. The Butte County Sheriff's Office issued evacuation orders Friday for the two Sierra Foothill communities of Stirling City and Inskip. Evacuation orders were also issued for the edges of Chico, about 15 miles to the west of Paradise.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), said Friday the whole state should be on alert.

"Weather-wise, we are literally in a statewide red flag weather warning," he said. "Fire weather conditions are extreme. We are seeing it literally border to border, which is making our job obviously much harder."

Sandra Peltola, a resident of Magalia, said she woke up early in the morning Thursday and noticed that the sky was totally black due to smoke from the rapidly growing blaze. She packed up her family's "fire box," gathered almost all of their cats and got in the car.

"We tried to go south on Skyway [the main commercial corridor in the area], and we were engulfed in flames, both sides of the road," Peltola told KQED. "We texted everybody — said fire's everywhere, everybody get out."

Caroline Bolin, a resident of Paradise, said she's living in subsidized, reduced-rate apartments for people on Section 8. She's also living on disability, so the thought of losing her home, which seemed likely based on its location, was a scary thought.

"I don't know what kind of home we're gonna have," Bolin told KQED. "And what can we afford? We can't stay in a hotel the whole time. Might be out on the street with two cats. Oh my God."

"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, where harrowing tales of escape and heroic rescues emerged after the entire community of 27,000 was ordered to evacuate.

Bass helped his family make it to safety 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," Bass said.

"It's a very dangerous and very serious situation," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. "We're working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is: If you can evacuate, you need to evacuate."

Firefighters from Alameda and Marin counties, the cities of Oakland, Napa, Hayward, Berkeley, Piedmont and Fremont, and other Bay Area departments have been sent to Butte County to battle the conflagration. Emergency officials have requested additional help from neighboring states.

David Baldwin, adjutant general for the California National Guard, said Friday that 185 troops are helping battle the Camp Fire.

"We also have 100 military police officers that are heading to Butte County to assist the Sheriff's Department with evacuations and securing the evacuated area," Baldwin said. "The rest of the California National Guard is on alert and prepared to deploy throughout the state if necessary."

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is the state's acting governor while Gov. Jerry Brown is out of the state and will succeed him in January, declared a state of emergency in the area and requested a federal emergency declaration, saying that high winds and dry brush presented ongoing danger.

The Camp Fire is just one of six major destructive wildfires currently burning across the state. In Southern California, the Hill and Woolsey fires have burned more than 14,000 acres and forced tens of thousands to flee the area. Nearly 6,000 fire personnel are fighting fires up and down the state.

Poor Air Quality Expected

The Camp Fire has led to smoky conditions from Butte County through the Sacramento area and into the Bay Area. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a Spare the Air alert.

"The worst visibility is going to be this morning," said Wilfred Pi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "We're seeing visibility around 2-4 miles. That should improve just a little bit this afternoon as we get a sea breeze, but it's not really going to completely clear out until tomorrow."

The National Weather Service issued extreme fire danger warnings in many areas of the state, saying low humidity and strong winds were expected to continue through the evening.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said Friday the weather across all of California is critical. "We are looking at a very dangerous weather pattern through the rest of this weekend," he said.

School Closures and Precautions

All Butte County schools are closed Friday, according to the Butte County Office of Education.

All schools in Sonoma County, close to 200 of them, have been closed due to poor air quality or pre-scheduled closures.

"Our houses and cars are covered with ash," said Steve Herrington, Sonoma County's superintendent of schools. "So we're getting ash particulates from the Camp Fire in Butte County."

Herrington said the smoke is bringing back memories of last year's October fire siege in the North Bay.

"A lot of this brings back or triggers trauma in students who experienced the fires, and we really encourage parents to check our website on what to do and how to look out for student events that may be caused by the reoccurrence of this, because this is just a little after the anniversary of our own fire," Herrington said.

All schools in the San Francisco Unified School District have been instructed to keep students indoors and to keep windows and doors shut. The SFUSD is monitoring air quality and principals are getting regular updates regarding precautions they should take, SFUSD spokeswoman Laura Dudnick said.

Two school districts in Lake County have closed.

West Contra Costa Unified School District is staying open but says it will limit outdoor activities.

Road Closures

Approximately 75 California Highway Patrol officers have been dispatched to the area to assist with traffic.

Screenshot from Caltrans' QuickMap. Click image to visit the site. (Caltrans)

"We'll also have a number of air assets, our helicopters for traffic monitoring, also rescue if needed," CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said Friday. We're in it for the long haul. We're in the very beginning of this."

For real-time updates visit Caltrans' QuickMap.

A Rush to Escape

Residents described fleeing their homes and getting stuck on gridlocked roads as flames approached, sparking explosions and toppling utility poles.

"Things started exploding," said resident Gina Oviedo. "People started getting out of their vehicles and running."

Many abandoned their cars on the side of the road, fleeing on foot. Cars and trucks, some with trailers attached, were left on the roadside as evacuees ran for their lives, said Bass, the police officer. "They were abandoned because traffic was so bad, backed up for hours."

Thick gray smoke and ash filled the sky above Paradise and could be seen from miles away.

"It was absolutely dark," said resident Mike Molloy, who said he made a split decision based on the wind to leave Thursday morning, packing only the minimum and joining a sea of other vehicles.

At the hospital in Paradise, more than 60 patients were evacuated to other facilities. 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 some staff, Kinney said.

Four hospital employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said.

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.

Chico police Officer John Barker and his partner evacuated several elderly people from an apartment complex.

"Most of them were immobile with walkers or spouses that were bedridden, so we were trying to get additional units to come and try and help us, just taking as many as we could," he said, describing the community as having "a lot of elderly, a lot of immobile people, some low-income with no vehicles."

Kelly Lee called shelters looking for her husband's 93-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Herrera, who was last heard from on Thursday morning. Herrera, who lives in Paradise with her 88-year-old husband, Lou Herrera, left a frantic voicemail around 9:30 a.m. saying they needed to get out.

"We never heard from them again," Lee said. "We're worried sick. ... They do have a car, but they both are older and can be confused at times."

This post will be updated throughout the day.

KQED's Angela Corral, Sonja Hutson, Jeremy Siegel and Ted Goldberg, and the Associated Press contributed to this post.