California schools, hospital evacuate ahead of fast-moving Camp Fire

Posted at 2:45 PM, Nov 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-08 16:45:01-05

(CNN) — A hospital and 11 schools in Paradise, California, were forced to evacuate patients and students as the Camp Fire, which was sparked early Thursday, got uncomfortably close.

​”Given the Butte County fire is within close proximity, as a precaution Adventist Health Feather River Medical Center is evacuating all patients. All patients are being transported to surrounding area hospitals,” a statement said.

The patients were taken to Oroville Hospital and Enloe Medical Center, the statement said.

The fire also forced the evacuation of every school in Paradise, as well as a school in Concow to the east, school officials said. The 3,300 students at the 11 schools in Paradise were being transported down a ridge in buses and staff members’ vehicles to an evacuation center in Chico, Butte County Schools Superintendent Tim Taylor said.

The Concow School sent its 60 students home shortly after the blaze, but many faculty members are worried about their homes, said Golden Feather Union Elementary School District Superintendent Josh Peete.

“Luckily, the fire broke out early enough that there were only a few students there and we had a plan. We were able to get them home pretty quick,” he said. “By the time we got out, the flames were a half mile away from the school. We tried to get all the nondigital things that we could — you know, stuff that couldn’t be replaced.”

Butte College also closed Thursday morning, not because of the fire but so that fire personnel can use the campus as a staging area, the school said. Later, the sheriff’s office included the campus in its evacuation orders.

Jillian Smalley escaped her neighborhood as fire consumed everything around her. Flames and cinders crawled along the ground and up trees as she, her mother and grandmother fled the area. The smoke was so thick it appeared she was driving at night.

En route to her sister’s house in Chico, she told CNN she didn’t have high hopes that her home survived: “It’s probably gone already. It can’t be there anymore.”

Allana Hall captured photos of low-hanging black smoke stretching for miles as she and her boyfriend evacuated Paradise. It’s the second time Hall has fled a California fire, she said.

“We had to drive through flames to make it out safely,” she said. “I’m moving to Mammoth (Lake) the end of this month so we may head there early.”

The wildfire has been moving southwest through Paradise, a town of about 26,000, said Lynne Tolmachoff, chief of public education for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, aka Cal Fire.

“It started in Pulga, came across to Concow and down into Paradise. It’s been hopscotching the ridges,” she said.

Paradise is located about 85 miles north of Sacramento, just west of the Plumas National Forest. Multiple roads in the area are closed as a result of the blaze.

Videos and photos on social media show thick, opaque smoke wafting over the ridges toward town. From the Costco parking lot in Paradise, light from the flames lit up the morning horizon.

The Camp Fire began about 6:33 a.m. and within three hours had burned about 5,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. At that rate, it’s burning a football field every 3 seconds.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation orders and warnings for numerous fire zones in the area.

A red flag warning is in effect in the area, meaning Thursday will bring 20-to-40-mph winds and low humidity that threaten to spread the wildfire. Gusts have reached speeds of 65 mph. The warning will remain in effect until Friday morning, officials said.

The chamber of commerce in nearby Chico said The Neighborhood Church was being set up as an evacuation center.