At least 9 dead as fire incinerates N. California town

California_Wildfires_66716 The Hill wildfire burns in the predawn hours of Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, seen from Agoura Hills in Southern California. The director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services says fires across California have forced 157,000 people from their homes. The fire near the Northern California town of Paradise has grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometers). (AP Photo/Haven Daley)
California_Wildfires_03827 Strong winds blow smoke horizontally over the the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean over the city of Malibu, far distance, in Southern California, seen from the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles Friday morning, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
California_Wildfires_08605 Smoke from wildfires burning in Northern California obscures the Sierra Nevada in this view from an airliner approaching Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. The director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services says fires across California have forced 157,000 people from their homes. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
California_Wildfires_73146 Firefighter Adrien Mahnke pauses while battling the Camp Fire as it tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_20700 Flames consume The Screen & Window Shop as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_40715 Cathy Fallon reacts as she stands near the charred remains of her home, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. "I'll be darned if I'm going to let those horses burn in the fire," said Fallon, who stayed on her property to protect her 14 horses, all of which survived. (AP Photo/John Locher)
California_Wildfires_62776 A piece of art sits outside the burned remains of home Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, that was destroyed by a wildfire that swept through the area Thursday, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_99241 Cathy Fallon wipes her face beside her son Gabriel Fallon as she stands near the charred remains of her home Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. "I'll be darned if I'm gonna let those horses burn in the fire" said Fallon, who stayed on her property to protect her 14 horses, "It has to be true love." All of the horses survived. (AP Photo/John Locher)
California_Wildfires_97970 Larry Marple, right, accompanied by his son, Rod Marple, looks over the burned remains of his home, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, that was destroyed by a wildfire that swept through the area Thursday, in Paradise, Calif. .(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California_Wildfires_01294 Officer Randy Law tends to a rescued horse rescued as a wildfire burns in Paradise, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_68174 Abandoned vehicles line Skyway after a wildfire burned through Paradise, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_53670 Firefighters work to keep flames from spreading through the Shadowbrook apartment complex as a wildfire burns through Paradise, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_48087 Firefighter Adrien Mahnke pauses while battling the Camp Fire as it tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_80945 Flames consume a car dealership as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_38220 Flames consume a Kentucky Fried Chicken as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_70562 Emergency personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_61691 Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_94650 Flames consume a car dealership as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_43707 A scorched vehicle rests on a roadside as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_56673 This undated photo shows Dorothy Herrera of Paradise, Calif., who went missing as a wildfire destroyed her hometown, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. A fast-moving wildfire that ravaged a Northern California town Thursday, sent residents racing to escape on roads that turned into tunnels of fire as thick smoke darkened the daytime sky. Kelly Lee called shelters looking for her husband’s 93-year-old grandmother, Herrera, who was last heard from on Thursday morning. (Kelly Lee via AP)
California_Wildfires_03777 A garage door stands among remains of a home in Paradise, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
California_Wildires_62776 A piece of art sits outside the burned remains of home Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, that was destroyed by a wildfire that swept through the area Thursday, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California_Wildfires_49535 This shortwave infrared (SWIR) satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows an area around Concow Reservoir, center, surrounded by active fires including in and around Magalia community, left, in northern California on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. SWIR imagery can penetrate smoke and detect fires, according to DigitalGlobe. Healthy vegetation appears blue. Burned areas appear orange/yellow and active fire lines glow. (DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via AP)
California_Wildires_97970 Larry Marple, right, accompanied by his son, Rod Marple, looks over the burned remains of his home, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, that was destroyed by a wildfire that swept through the area Thursday, in Paradise, Calif. .(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California_Wildires_49744 Larry Marple, right, accompanied by his son, Rod Marple, looks over the burned remains of his home,Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, that was destroyed by a wildfire that swept through the area Thursday, in Paradise, Calif. .(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California_Wildfires_36976 Firefighter Jose Corona sprays water as flames from the Camp Fire consume a home in Magalia, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_63897 Firefighter Jose Corona monitors a burning home as the Camp Fire burns in Magalia, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
California_Wildfires_84546 A helicopter drops water while a wildfire burns a home near Malibu Lake in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. About two-thirds of the city of Malibu was ordered evacuated early Friday as a ferocious wildfire roared toward the beachside community that is home to about 13,000 residents, some of them Hollywood celebrities. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
California_Wildfires_87357 A wildfire burns a structure near Malibu Lake in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. About two-thirds of the city of Malibu was ordered evacuated early Friday as a ferocious wildfire roared toward the beachside community that is home to about 13,000 residents, some of them Hollywood celebrities. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Southern_California_Wildfires_52078 Evacuees from a wildfire rest on cots and blanket supplied by the Red Cross in the gymnasium at Taft Charter High School in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
California_Wildfires_92840 A statue rests amid a charred lot as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
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PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — A fierce wildfire in Northern California incinerated most of a town of about 30,000 people with flames that moved so fast there was nothing firefighters could do, authorities said Friday. Nine people died in what quickly grew into the state’s most destructive fire in at least a century.

Only a day after it began, the blaze near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 140 square miles (362 square kilometers), had destroyed more than 6,700 structures — almost all of them homes — and was burning completely out of control.

“There was really no firefight involved,” Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said, explaining that crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people get out alive. “These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday.”

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.

When Paradise was evacuated, the order set off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got stuck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot. People reported seeing much of the community go up in flames, including homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement center.

Rural areas fared little better. Many homes have propane tanks that were exploding amid the flames. “They were going off like bombs,” said Karen Auday, who escaped to a nearby town.

McLean estimated that the lost buildings numbered in the thousands in Paradise, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,” he said.

While the cause of the fire wasn’t known, Pacific Gas & Electric Company told state regulators it experienced an outage on an electrical transmission line near Paradise about 15 minutes before the blaze broke out. The company said it later noticed damage to a transmission tower near the town. The utility’s filing was first reported by KQED News.

The massive blaze spread north Friday, prompting officials to order the evacuation of Stirling City and Inskip, two communities north of Paradise along the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The wind-driven flames also spread to the west and reached Chico, a city of 90,000 people. Firefighters were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Cpt. Bill Murphy said.

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.

Strong winds had blown the blackened needles on some evergreens straight to one side. A scorched car with its doors open sat on the shoulder.

At one burned-out house, flames still smoldered inside what appeared to be a weight room. The rubble included a pair of dumbbells with the rubber melted off and the skeletons of a metal pullup bar and other exercise equipment. The grass and elaborate landscaping all around the brick and stucco home remained an emerald green. Red pool umbrellas were furled near lounge chairs and showed not a singe on them.

Evacuees from Paradise sat in stunned silence Friday outside a Chico church where they took refuge the night before. They all had harrowing tales of a slow-motion escape from a fire so close they could feel the heat inside their vehicles as they sat stuck in a terrifying traffic jam.

When the order came to evacuate, it was like the entire town of 27,000 residents decided to leave at once, they said. Fire surrounded the evacuation route, and drivers panicked. Some crashed and others left their vehicles by the roadside.

“It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us,” police officer Mark Bass said.

Officials said all the victims were found in Paradise, including four who died inside their vehicles.

A nurse called Rita Miller on Thursday morning, telling her she had to get her disabled mother, who lives a few blocks away, and flee Paradise immediately. Miller jumped in her boyfriend’s rickety pickup truck, which was low on gas and equipped with a bad transmission. She instantly found herself stuck in gridlock.

“I was frantic,” she said. After an hour of no movement, she abandoned the truck and decided to try her luck on foot. While walking, a stranger in the traffic jam rolled down her window and asked Miller if she needed help. Miller at first scoffed at the notion of getting back in a vehicle. Then she reconsidered, thinking: “I’m really scared. This is terrifying. I can’t breathe. I can’t see, and maybe I should humble myself and get in this woman’s car.”

The stranger helped Miller pack up her mother and took them to safety in Chico. It took three hours to travel the 14 miles.

Concerned friends and family posted anxious messages on Twitter and other sites, saying they were looking for loved ones, particularly seniors who lived at retirement homes or alone.

About 20 of the same deputies who were helping to find and rescue people lost their own homes, Sheriff Kory Honea said.

“There are times when you have such rapid-moving fires … no amount of planning is going to result in a perfect scenario, and that’s what we had to deal with here,” Honea told the Action News Network.

Kelly Lee called shelters looking for her husband’s 93-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Herrera, who was last heard from Thursday morning. Herrera, who lives in Paradise with her 88-year-old husband, Lou, 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.”

For one desperate day, Dawn Johnson anxiously waited for news of her father Richard Wayne Wilson and his wife, Suzanne, who lived in an RV park in Paradise that burned. The couple moved from Texas to the California foothill town about a year ago and was probably not prepared for wildfires.

They lived in an RV park in the California foothill town and were unlikely equipped to evacuate. He has late-stage cancer and she is mostly confined to her bed, she said.

Johnson, of Independence, Oregon, relied on fellow members of the couple’s Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation to check local shelters. By Friday afternoon, she learned they had been found in nearby Chico.

“They are fine,” she said.

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Associated Press writers Paul Elias in Paradise and Jocelyn Gecker, Janie Har, Daisy Nguyen, Olga R. Rodriguez, Sudhin Thanawala and Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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This story has been amended to correct the last name of missing couple.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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