3 dead as wildfire explodes in Northern California

APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_57365 In this image taken with a slow shutter speed, embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
Northwest_Wildfires_08454 Jennifer Steckler walks two horses along state Highway 226 in Lyons, Ore., early Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Steckler had walked them for more than two miles during evacuation from the Santiam Fire.
Northwest_Wildfires_86774 A steady stream of vehicles heads west on a road east of Springfield, Ore., as residents evacuate the area ahead of a fast-moving wildfire Tuesday Sept. 8, 2020.
Northwest_Wildfires_94515 The sun is seen against a sky turned orange with smoke from wildfires as it sets, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, near Sumner, Wash., south of Seattle.
Northwest_Wildfires_28825 A helicopter is on the scene as firefighters respond to a brush fire off Fruit Valley Road and NW Lower River Road in Vancouver, Wash., on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Northwest_Wildfires_64578 Shannon Thornton looks into the basement of her burned home Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Malden, Washington the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the tiny town west of Rosalia. Shannon and her husband Shawn weren't home at the time, but their son Cody was and managed to get their dog and a few belongings before leaving just minutes before the flames swept through, destroying their home, garage and multiple vehicles. The Thorntons have been married 22 years.
Northwest_Wildfires_97283 In downtown Malden, Washington, what's left of an old gas station still smolders Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the tiny town west of Rosalia. Many cars and boats around the building were burned. The town was hit by a wind-driven wildfire Monday that destroyed many structures./The Spokesman-Review via AP)
Northwest_Wildfires_03265 A.J. Garcia (left) looks on as his wife Kendra Garcia (right) embraces her sister-in-law Tiffany Luvaas at the site of their former home that burned during the Colfax Fire Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Colfax, Wash. "It started down the hill," Luvaas said while tears escaped her eyes. "I woke up to it jumping the fence, and I barely had time." Luvaas, her boyfriend and her mother were the three residents of the home, and neither them or their dogs were harmed. The Colfax fire was 100 percent contained as of Tuesday, Sept, 8, 2020.
Northwest_Wildfires_26109 Shawn Thornton hugs his wife, Shannon Thornton, next to the rubble of their burned home Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Malden, Washington the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the tiny town west of Rosalia. Shawn and Shannon weren't home at the time, but their son Cody was and managed to get their dog and a few belongings before leaving just minutes before the flames swept through.
Northwest_Wildfires_85806 Shannon, left, and Shawn Thornton comb through the rubble of their burned garage Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Malden, Washington the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the tiny town west of Rosalia. Shawn and Shannon weren't home at the time, but their son Cody was and managed to get their dog and a few belongings before leaving just minutes before the flames swept through.
Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_11967 Looking up Columbus Ave. the Transamerica Pyramid and Salesforce Tower are covered with smoke from wildfires late Wednesday morning, Sept. 9, 2020, in San Francisco.
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_32859 Flames lick above vehicles on Highway 162 as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_44741 Firefighters watch the Bear Fire approach in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
California_Wildfires_69508 Firefighters monitor the Bear Fire burning in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
California_Wildfires_62344 Seen from the Forbestown community in Butte County, Calif., a plume rises from the Bear Fire as it approaches Oroville on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
California_Wildfires_94283 Embers fly across a roadway as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
California_Wildfires_20258 Flames lick above vehicles on Highway 162 as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_86562 This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken at 20:00 UTC (4 p.m. EDT) and provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows brown smoke from wildfires blowing westward in the atmosphere from California's Sierra Nevada to the Coast Ranges and from Oregon, top, on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.
California_Wildfires_70643 A scorched car rests in a clearing following the Bear Fire in Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_69361 Under darkened skies from wildfire smoke, a waiter carries a tray of Irish Coffee to people having lunch at the Buena Vista Cafe Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in San Francisco. People from San Francisco to Seattle woke Wednesday to hazy clouds of smoke lingering in the air, darkening the sky to an eerie orange glow that kept street lights illuminated into midday, all thanks to dozens of wildfires throughout the West. The picture was taken in the middle of the day at 12:39 p.m.
Northwest_Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_79173 Catherine Shields, of Silverton, Ore., leads her horse Takoda under smoky skies, on the Oregon State Fairgrounds, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Salem, Ore. Shields evacuated the horse and other animals from her home on Tuesday, as a wildfire threatened. Hundreds of horses have been brought to the fairgrounds in Salem by people fleeing the fires, along with llamas, goats and other animals. The Red Cross is helping people at the fairgrounds, which has been turned into an evacuation center.
Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_32262 Under darkened skies from wildfire smoke, a man crosses Hyde Street with Alcatraz Island and Fisherman's Wharf in the background Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in San Francisco. People from San Francisco to Seattle woke Wednesday to hazy clouds of smoke lingering in the air, darkening the sky to an eerie orange glow that kept street lights illuminated into midday, all thanks to dozens of wildfires throughout the West. The picture was taken in the middle of the day at 12:29 p.m.
Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_80426 Under darkened skies from wildfire smoke, people walk at Fisherman's Wharf Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in San Francisco. People from San Francisco to Seattle woke Wednesday to hazy clouds of smoke lingering in the air, darkening the sky to an eerie orange glow that kept street lights illuminated into midday, all thanks to dozens of wildfires throughout the West. The picture was taken in the middle of the day at 1:01 p.m.
California_Wildfires_60329 A plume rises from the Bear Fire as it burns along Lake Oroville on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Butte County, Calif.
California_Wildfires_58601 A scorched car rests in a clearing following the Bear Fire in Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
Property is left in ruins after the Creek Fire passed through Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Tollhouse, Calif.
A fire ravaged structure smolders after the Creek Fire passed through Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Tollhouse, Calif.
Recreational vehicles are lined up in a fire-ravaged property after the Creek Fire passed through Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Tollhouse, Calif.
Rick Archuleta of the Clovis Fire Department hoses down hotspots left behind by the Creek Fire Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Tollhouse, Calif.
Tim Lesmeister of the Clovis Fire Department puts out hotspots left behind by the Creek Fire Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Tollhouse, Calif.
APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_26575 Flames shoot from a home as the Bear Fire burns through the Berry Creek area of Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
California_Wildfires_57365 In this image taken with a slow shutter speed, embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
California_Wildfires_17612 A hand crew works to save a home as the Bear Fire burns through the Berry Creek area of Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
APTOPIX_Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_71696 Patrick Kenefick, left, and Dana Williams, both of Mill Valley, Calif., record the darkened Golden Gate Bridge covered with smoke from wildfires Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, from a pier at Fort Baker near Sausalito, Calif. The photo was taken at 9:47 a.m. in the morning.
Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_04914 A man walks his dog along Bridgeway Avenue as smoke from wildfires darken the morning Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Sausalito, Calif.
Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_95493 People look toward the skyline obscured by wildfire smoke in daytime from Kite Hill Open Space in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.
California_Wildfires_31644 A hand crew clears vegetation from around a barn as the Bear Fire burns through the Berry Creek area of Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region.
Northwest_Wildfires_Smoky_Skies_03758 This photo taken from the home of Russ Casler in Salem, Ore., shows the smoke-darkened sky well before sunset, around 5 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Strong winds and high temperatures continued to fuel catastrophic fires in many parts of Oregon on Wednesday, forcing thousands of people to flee from their homes and making for poor air quality throughout the West. Huge wildfires also continued to grow in neighboring Washington state.
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OROVILLE, Calilf. (AP) — Three people died in a wind-whipped Northern California wildfire that has forced thousands of people from their homes while carving a 25-mile path of destruction through mountainous terrain and parched foothills, authorities said Wednesday.

California Highway Patrol Officer Ben Draper told the Bay Area News Group that one person was found in a car and apparently had been trying to escape the flames.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and other buildings are believed to have been damaged or destroyed by the blaze northeast of San Francisco, fire officials said at an evening news conference.

The fire has also threatened Paradise, a town devastated just two years ago by the deadliest blaze in state history that prompted a traffic jam as panicked residents tried to escape.

The North Complex fire was one of more than two dozen burning in the California. including three of the five largest ever in the state. Other wildfires charred huge swaths of the West amid gusty, dry conditions. Forecasters said some weather relief was in sight and could help firefighters overwhelmed by the blazes.

In Washington, more acres burned in a single day than firefighters usually see all year. Fires also forced people to flee homes in Oregon and Idaho. A blast of polar air helped slow wildfires in Colorado and Montana.

Since the middle of August, fires in California have killed 11 people, destroyed more than 3,600 structures, burned old growth redwoods, charred chaparral and forced evacuations in communities near the coast, in wine country and along the Sierra Nevada.

Thick smoke Wednesday choked much of the state and cast an eerie orange hue across the sky as thousands of people in communities near Oroville were ordered to evacuate.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, conservatively estimated the fire had burned about 400 square miles (1,036 square kilometers) in 24 hours.

“The unbelievable rates of spread now being observed on these fires — it is historically unprecedented,” Swain tweeted.

The U.S. Forest Service, which had taken the unprecedented measure of closing eight national forests in Southern California earlier in the week, ordered all 18 of its forests in the state closed Wednesday for public safety.

The fire raging outside Oroville, 125 miles (200 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, jumped the middle fork of the Feather River on Tuesday and, driven by 45 mph (72 km/h) winds, leapt into a canopy of pines and burned all the way to Lake Oroville — about 25 miles (40 kilometers), said Jake Cagle, one of the fire chiefs involved.

The fire had been 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) and 50% contained before it grew more than sixfold.

Firefighters were focused on saving lives and homes instead of trying to halt the fire’s advance, Cagle said.

The fire tore into several hamlets along the river and near Lake Oroville, leveling countless homes and other buildings, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“We know that the fire was burning incredibly rapidly into Berry Creek and did do a lot of destruction,” Berlant said.

In Paradise, where 85 people lost their lives and nearly 19,000 buildings were destroyed, the sky turned from black to cherry red and ash carried on strong winds rained down in a scene reminiscent from the fateful morning of Nov. 8, 2018, former Mayor Steve “Woody” Culleton said.

“It was extremely frightening and ugly,” Culleton said. “Everybody has PTSD and what not, so it triggered everybody and caused terror and panic.”

A power shutoff to prevent electric lines from sparking wildfires — the cause of the Paradise fire — prevented people from getting up-to-date information by internet, TV or their home phones, Culleton said. Many of the residents decided to leave and created a traffic jam leading out of town, another scary reminder of the bottleneck where several residents died two years ago.

On Tuesday, flames overtook 14 firefighters who had to deploy last-resort emergency shelters trying to proect a mountaintop fire station above Big Sur on California’s central coast. Three suffered burns and smoke inhalation. However, one firefighter who was in critical condition was upgraded to stable condition and the other two were treated and released from a Fresno hospital, the U.S. Forest Service said.

That fire, which had doubled overnight Tuesday and burned terrain that hadn’t seen fire in 40 years, destroyed an office, two fire engines, barracks and all the firefighters’ personal belongings inside.

In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. People in foothill communities east of Los Angeles were warned to be ready to flee, but the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds were weaker than predicted.

“We’re encouraged that the wind activity appears to be dying down,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “The rest of the week looks a little more favorable.”

California has set a record with nearly 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) burned already this year, and historically the worst of the wildfire season doesn’t begin until fall.

Pacific Gas & Electric deployed more than 3,000 employees Wednesday to inspect power lines before restoring energy to about 167,000 customers whose electricity was turned off to prevent fires from being started by wind-damaged wires. The utility had restored power to about 85 percent of those customers by evening.

Only a very small number of customers had power turned off in Southern California.

___

Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers John Antczak in Los Angeles and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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