The forest fires in California have proven unstoppable and work at high tide. (Reuters)
California is burning again, north and south, the flames deadly and fast, fueled by the violent winds of Santa Ana and fueled by dry tinder. The fire has killed at least nine people, burned down a mountain town and injured the nerves of tens of thousands of local residents who were forced to evacuate their homes.
The fires proved so far unstoppable and lightning fast. The big devastating fire here in Southern California, known as the Woolsey Fire, quadrupled on Friday and covered more than 22 square kilometers without inclusion. He jumped lightly on the eight-lane highway 101 and sauntered over the Santa Monica Mountains to pose as Malibu, setting fire to houses and cars. The wildfire finally came into its hitherto unique game: the Pacific.
Even worse were the bulletins from the north of the state. At least nine people died in or near their homes or vehicles as they tried to overcome the campfire that devastated the mountain town of Paradise, about 90 miles north of the capital, Sacramento.
Paradise was all but block after block of destruction, pulled-down power lines, charred cars amidst streets, floating pylons, and fires all over the city, though not much vegetation was left to burn. Random buildings still stand in the city of 27,000, but for every building that survived, there were dozens that did not.
Marc Kessler, 55, a teacher at a middle school in Paradise, said the smoke was rising on the eve of the Sierra Nevada when he came to work on Thursday.
"The sky became black; you could not tell it was daytime, "he said. "It was raining black soot pieces, coming down like a black blizzard, loosing fire everywhere.
Kessler said the authorities told the teachers to forget the seatbelt laws and stack the approximately 200 students who attended classes on Thursday morning into their teachers' personal vehicles. He said some desperate parents had come to fetch their children, and bus drivers were driving through flames to save the lives of children.
Kessler said one of the students in his car said, "Oh, look at the moon!"
"I said," That's not the moon. That's the sun, "he recalled, his voice breaking. "There were times when there were flames near the vehicles. There were times when you could not see through the smoke. Some of our teachers did not believe they would survive. "
About 23.4 million Californians were under the red flag by Friday, and officials warned that flames could reach the city of Chico, a university town of more than 90,000, about six miles from Paradise. The humans ran for the evacuation.
The campfire had covered 110 square miles and was confined to only five percent on Friday, state officials said, warning that there may be more deaths they can not confirm until they can safely reach smoldering quarters. It is a terrifying situation for family members of residents who were last heard when the city and other nearby people were evacuated.
"We did not have much time; It came too fast, "said Cory Nichols, a barber who had fled his house in paradise. "We wanted to sell the house. Do not have to. "
California has experienced severe fires of unprecedented regularity in recent years, many of which have invaded cities and towns that have sprung up at forest edges in areas with forest fires. In August, the Mendocino Complex Fire became the largest forest fire ever to burn over 400,000 hectares. The previous record was set less than a year earlier, when Thomas Fire blew through more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara districts. In October 2017, 21 forest fires in the heart of the Californian wine country burned nearly 95,000 hectares and 7,000 buildings in the counties of Sonoma and Napa. 40 people were killed.
The Californian fire season usually starts in late spring and lasts until summer. But hot, dry weather has continued this year well into the fall, and the winter rains still have to come. The Santa Ana winds, blowing from the Sierra Nevada and towards the western coast, build up to howling storms that dry the vegetation and soil, potentially creating explosive fire conditions.
In Thousand Oaks, 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles, residents have been through a brutal week.
This city, which is favored by its inhabitants for clean air and low crime, already mourned after the mass shootings of Wednesday night in a country music bar. In a Thursday night city night watch, people had lit candles and been thinking about an unspeakable crime. Only hours later, the same area was suffocated by smoke and endangered by the Woolsey Fire.
In the darkness before dawn, a gusty wind whipped up American flags, drawing half-staff in honor of the victims shot dead. An orange glow could be seen all over the city, sometimes leaping into bright torches along the ridge lines. In the middle of the night, emergency bulletins grunted on mobile phones, sometimes urging evacuations.
"It's dangerous to sleep all night," said Sergio Figueroa, 34, who left his wife in a hotel where she works on Friday. Late Thursday and early in the morning on Friday, he watched television, knowing that his home was in the "voluntary" evacuation zone. He said he had closed his eyes for an hour – but not really slept.
"They just close your eyes and stay alert," he said.
At 3 in the morning, the normally empty streets at this hour were full of parents, children, and pets who were evacuated as the orange glow came closer.
"Do not wait too long. Get off if you want to get off, "said Uber driver Brent Young, 52, who was about to bring a customer from Thousand Oaks to Los Angeles International Airport via a detour that would drive around closed highways and dangerous conditions ,
The problem was finding out which way to go. In many places there was a fire. Even before the Woolsey Fire started, another wildfire, the Hill Fire, threatened the houses west of town. The 101 motorway was blocked at different times for two different fires in both directions. The only thing that hindered the Hill Fire was that it got into the footprint of a fire in 2013 and fuel was short of it, authorities said.
Long-time resident Peggy Smith, 64, filled her gas storage at 4am Friday at a mobile station in an area that had been voluntarily evacuated. She said that people flocked to Thousand Oaks in the 1960s after airline pilots on the flight to Los Angeles found there was no smog here. The pilots moved in, then police and firefighters.
She was ready for the fire. It only took her 10 minutes to load her car with her favorite photos, important documents, clothing and food.
"My son is a firefighter. I was married to a firefighter. I'm not scared, "said Smith. "I have full confidence in our fire department."
They were busy. The trucks rolled through the neighborhoods and raced down Highway 101.
Wendy Eldredge, 54, drove to work as usual, to Noah's Bagels, near the freeway, at five in the afternoon so the doors could open at 6 o'clock.
"What am I driving on?" She wondered. "How do I get out?"
She drove to work and opened the door, the only employee who was at the only place where business miles were available. "I did not want to let people down," she said.
The dawn came in, a blast of smoke extinguished the sun.
The Woolsey Fire came from the north, not in a single wall of flame, but leaps and bounds.
"That's crazy," said Paige Gordon, a realtor who checked out the multi-million dollar house of a friend in Westlake Village when the flames engulfed the dried-up brush. "We set fire to all aspects of Ventura County."
As he set fire sprinklers in his friend's backyard, a flare burst on the hillside caught his attention: "There's the fire right there!"
Smoke rushed over Thousand Oaks like a thunderstorm. The black cloud slowly moved towards the sea as it crossed hills covered with black stubble.
In Malibu, 35-year-old film and television producer Ben Rosenblatt glanced at the approaching fire and knew he needed to get out quickly. He had just enough time to go with the dog first. There are not many roads in and out of Malibu, with the roads winding through the gorges through fire. This left the Pacific Coast Highway, where the traffic moved during a creeper. The trip to Santa Monica would have taken 35 minutes, but the navigation app on his phone said it was 2 hours and 35 minutes.
"It's like a slow motion race with huge clouds of fire behind you and shock absorbers before impact," Rosenblatt said. "Remember every catastrophe movie you've seen, where you're trying to outstrip the storm, but it's happening so slowly."
Back at Thousand Oaks, the smoke would go down and then re-inflate as a point fire rekindled. In a youth center set up as an evacuee for those who escaped, people became nervous when they saw flames on a nearby hill.
In the parking lot people were sleeping in their cars next to cats and dogs, their belongings in the back.
Mary Leighton, 57, from West Lake, had just gone to bed Thursday night when her brother heard on the news that they had to evacuate.
"You think, what are you taking?" "She said. "My mind stopped."
Five minutes later, when she was carrying her husband's ashes and her pumpkin cat, she and her family disappeared. They slept overnight in an animal shelter and woke up Friday morning with news that homes in their neighborhood had been burned. Leighton did not know if her home survived.
She then remembered the mass shooting on the borderline: "I just do not understand why this city was hit so hard."
She and her family did not have cots at the shelter until four in the morning, she said. Leighton slept until 9 in the morning and woke up to find a plan for what to do next. She had sat in the parking lot all morning in a white Volvo, still in her pajamas.
"I can not find any information. I do not know what's going on, "she said. "I have nothing, I do not know anything."
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Williams, a freelance journalist from California, reported from Paradise, California. Bever reported from Washington. Washington Post's Katie Zezima at Thousand Oaks and freelance journalist Noah Smith of Santa Monica, California contributed to the report.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and will be published from a syndicated feed.)