Authorities fear there may be fatalities after a fast-moving wildfire engulfed a Northern California town, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people.
A fast-moving wildfire has roared through a Northern California town, with reports of fatalities as it engulfed dozens of buildings and tens of thousands of people fled the flames.
The blaze dubbed the Camp Fire, swept through the town of Paradise, driven by high winds and dry conditions, with social media reports that a hospital, high school and K-Mart store were on fire.
"We have received reports of some fatalities. Those reports have not yet been verified," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference.
A local fire official said there were multiple injuries among civilians and firefighters.
"The whole town is burning," Bob Van Camp, a resident who escaped on his motorbike, told a local TV channel "We had to ride through flames to get here," he said.
With limited escape routes from the town, which is built on a ridge, traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock, with residents forced to abandon vehicles and run from the flames carrying children and pets, officials said.
"It's very chaotic. It's a very bad fire," Officer Ryan Lambert of the California Highway Patrol said of the evacuation.
"The mass population is trying to be evacuated at once, a fast-moving fire, trying to get everybody evacuated on the roads, a lot of congestion, traffic accidents."
The blaze began early on Thursday and quickly charred 3,237 hectares, forcing the evacuation of the 27,000 residents of Paradise, about 240 km northeast of San Francisco, and other communities, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement.
California is experiencing one of its worst fire years ever, with 251,610 hectares burned through Sunday in areas covered by Cal Fire, nearly twice the amount during the same period of 2017 and nearly triple the five-year average.