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An used car dealership is seen engulfed in flames during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Stephen Lam

‘Camp Fire’ in California still growing, kills 5 people

Emergency officials issued multiple mandatory evacuations this week for parts of Northern California threatened by a 70,000-acre wildfire that started 80 miles north of Sacramento. The “Camp Fire” — as named by local officials — is expected to grow because of high winds and current dry conditions in the area. It is currently five percent contained.

Officials said they have received reports of fatalities from the wildfire. Investigators are working to confirm the reports, a process complicated by the fire because at the time of this reporting it was still “active,” officials said.

On Friday, officials announced that five bodies were recovered from vehicles in Paradise, California, a town overcome and destroyed by the fire.

“Due to the burn injuries, indentification could not be immediately made,” officials said in a statement. Autopsies will be conducted to determine more details about the deaths.

On Thursday, Acting Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Butte County — the site of the Camp Fire. By Friday morning, he had expanded the declaration to include Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, where two new fires — the “Woolsey Fire” and the “Hill Fire” — had quickly grown over the course of 12 hours. Ventura is the same county that witnessed a mass shooting on Thursday.

By Friday morning, the Woolsey Fire had grown to 8,000 acres, while the Hill Fire had shrunk from 10,000 to 6,000 acres. The Woolsey Fire has crossed the 101 freeway and is headed toward the Pacific Ocean. Its path has triggered mandatory evacuations for areas surrounding Thousand Oaks and those north of Malibu.

Officials at the Butte County Sheriff’s office and Cal Fire, the state agency responsible for fighting wildfires, ordered evacuations throughout the morning for rural communities in the path of the wildfire, including Paradise, California, which is home to more than 26,000 people.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it’s that kind of devastation,” said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean late Thursday, according to the Associated Press. Cal Fire officials said a couple thousand structures had been destroyed. Another 15,000 structures remain threatened.

Officials also issued an evacuation for part of Highway 70 nearby the fire and identified evacuation shelters to which people could flee. Butte College has been closed and is operating as a staging area for fire personnel.

Local media reports have shown images of traffic moving away from the plumes of smoke and orange glow of the wildfire. Cal Fire said dozens of resources have been called in from elsewhere in the state, as firefighters work to contain the quick-moving blaze.

“Hundreds of fire crews are on the scene,” Lynne Tolmachoff, a Cal Fire spokesperson, told the PBS NewsHour late Thursday. By the evening, the number of fire personnel had grown to 2,200.

The Camp Fire has advanced from the Paradise area toward Chico, a city with 93,000 residents. Firefighters hope to intercept the fire in a valley that lies between the two cities, as they wait for winds to die down. By Friday morning, officials had begun issuing evacuation orders for parts of Chico.

Cal Fire, which has been calling the wildfire Camp Fire in its incident reports, said it originated at Pulga and Camp Creek roads in Butte County. It appears the wildfire grew from 1,000 acres to 5,000 in three hours’ time.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimated the fire is growing at 80 acres per minute.

On Wednesday, Cal Fire officials said that parts of Northern and Southern California were under a “red flag” warning for critical fire weather “due to gusty winds, dry fuels & low humidity.”

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