Flames can be seen spreading across the hillside near Thousand Oaks, California. A USA TODAY journalist was on his way to donate blood for shooting victims when he noticed the Hill Fire.
A trio of wind-driven wildfires in California gained strength early Friday, lighting the sky with orange flames and filling the air with gray smoke and ash.
As the Camp Fire raged in the northern part of the state, about 90 miles north of Sacramento in Butte County, the Hill and Woolsey fires triggered widespread evacuations to cap a hellacious day in Ventura County that began with news of a mass shooting that left 13 people dead at a neighborhood country music bar in Thousand Oaks.
The smallest of the three fires, the 2,000-acre Woolsey Fire was rapidly spreading late Thursday night with the Santa Ana winds fanning flames and forcing hundreds of people from their homes.
Earlier in the day, the Hill Fire made a similar charge, flaring just after 2 p.m. PST and needing just 12 minutes to jump Highway 101, one of the area’s primary roadways, as it burned in the same path as the 2013 Springs Fire that torched 24,000 acres before running into the Pacific Ocean.
The Hill Fire had consumed 10,000 acres, or 15 square miles, according to Cal Fire, though the Ventura County Fire Department reported no injuries or structure losses at a Thursday night press conference.
“The first part of this fuel bed had not seen fire for many years. Drought-stricken fuels, Santa Ana wind conditions, low relative humidity, high temperatures: It’s a recipe for fire,” said Ventura County Fire Department Assistant Chief Chad Cook, the incident commander for the Hill Fire.
The Camp Fire, in less than 24 hours, had torched over 31 square miles, or 20,000 acres, and “pretty much … destroyed” Paradise, a city with a population of 27,000 located about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Witnesses in Paradise reported seeing homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement home up in flames. The entire community was ordered to evacuate as the Camp Fire raged out of control.
“We were surrounded by fire, we were driving through fire on each side of the road,” said police officer Mark Bass, a Chico police officer who lives in Paradise. “It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us.”
Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean told the Associated Press, “Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it’s that kind of devastation. The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out.”
Acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Butte County, where the fire was burning about 80 acres per minute at one point, according to UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain. That’s equal to about 60 football fields per minute.
All three fires were at zero percent containment.
Thick black smoke covers the sky in northern California from a fast-growing wildfire that’s forced tens of thousands to flee. The fire has already prompted evacuation orders in Butte County, about 90 miles north of Sacramento.
Contributing: Ventura County Star; Redding Record Searchlight; The Associated Press
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