A massive wildfire has killed nine people and burned down a whole city in California's destructive fire for at least a century.
Just one day after it began, the fire in the city of Paradise in northern California had grown to nearly 140 square kilometers, destroying more than 6,700 buildings – almost all of the houses.
Firefighters said it was burning out of control.
"It really was not a firefight," said Captain Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety. He said crews had given up attacking the flames and instead helped people disappear alive.
"These firefighters were in rescue mode all day yesterday."
Another 35 people are reported missing and at least three firefighters were injured in the fire in Paradise, which has about 30,000 inhabitants.
With fires burning in Southern California, civil servants estimated the total number of people forced out of their homes at about 250,000
Fires raged in the city of Malibu and the city of Thousands Oaks, which were shaken by mass shootings earlier this week, killing 12 victims.
The evacuation orders spanned the entire city of Malibu, home to 13,000 people, including some of Hollywood's biggest stars. The home of reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner in the hills above Malibu was completely destroyed in the fire, TMZ reported.
Kanye West and Ms. Kim Kardashian, Jenner's step-daughter, were among those who went to social media to confirm that they were safe. Star Wars actor Mark Hill said the fire was "dangerously close to our home" and applauded the work of the fire department.
President Donald Trump made an emergency declaration in which federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Circles in Los Angeles.
When Paradise was evacuated, the order unleashed a desperate escape in which many motorists got stuck in the jammed traffic and parked their vehicles to flee.
People reported that much of the community went up in flames, including flats, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, schools and a retirement home.
The rural areas did not get much better. Many houses have propane tanks that exploded amidst the flames.
"They ran like bombs," said Karen Auday, who had fled to a nearby town.
Ms. McLean estimated that the lost buildings were counted by the thousands in Paradise, about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.
"Pretty much the paradise community is destroyed, it's that kind of devastation," he said.
While the cause of the fire was unknown, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company told the state regulators that it broke out about 15 minutes before the fire broke out on an electrical transmission line near Paradise.
The company said it later noticed damage to a mast near the city. Submission of the utility was first reported by KQED News.
The massive fire spread north on Friday, prompting the authorities to order the evacuation of Stirling City and Inskip, two communities north of Paradise along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The wind flames also spread to the west and reached Chico, a city with 90,000 inhabitants. Firefighters were able to stop the fire on the outskirts, said the captain of Cal Fire, Bill Murphy.
On the way to Paradise on Friday there were no signs of life except occasional birdsong. A thick, yellow haze from the fire hung in the air and seemed to appear in the middle of the day at dusk.
Strong winds had just blown the blackened needles on some evergreens to the side. A burned car with open doors stood on the shoulder.
Evacuees from Paradise sat in stunned silence on Friday in front of a church in Chico, where they had sought refuge the night before.
They all had shattering stories of a slow-motion escape from a fire so close that they could feel the heat in their vehicles as they sat in a terrifying traffic jam.
When the order to evacuate arrived, it was as if the entire city of 27,000 inhabitants decided to leave immediately, they said.
The evacuation route was surrounded by fire and the drivers panicked. Some crashed and others left their vehicles on the roadside.
"It was just a wall of fire on each side of us and we could barely see the road ahead," said police officer Mark Bass.
A nurse called Rita Miller on Thursday morning and told her to get her disabled mother, who lives a few blocks away, and leave paradise immediately.
Miss Miller jumped into her boyfriend's pickup truck, which was short of gas and badly geared. She was immediately at a standstill.
"I was desperate," she said. After an hour of no movement she dropped the car and decided to try her luck on foot. While walking, a stranger rolled down her window in a traffic jam and asked Ms. Miller if she needed help.
Ms. Miller initially scoffed at the idea of getting back into a vehicle. Then she thought again, thinking, "I'm really scared, it's scary, I can not breathe, I can not see anything, and maybe I should humble myself and get into that woman's car."
The stranger helped Ms. Miller pack her mother and brought her to safety in Chico. It took three hours to cover the 14 miles.
Worried friends and families have posted anxious messages on Twitter and other websites. They said they were looking for relatives, especially seniors, who lived in old people's homes or alone.
Around 20 of the same MPs who helped find and rescue people lost their own homes, Sheriff Kory Honea said.
"There are times when you have blazing fires so fast, there will not be perfect planning for a perfect scenario, and that's what we had to deal with here," Honea told The Action News Network.
Additional reporting by agencies.