An 18,000-acre fire in Northern California’s Butte County forced thousands to evacuate from their homes, hospitals and schools on Thursday. Smoke from the fire, which started Thursday morning, can be seen from as far away as 150 miles.
The blaze, known as the Camp fire, is being fueled by gusty winds and low humidity. It is moving at an estimated 80 acres per minute.
Large swaths of the state are under a “red flag” fire hazard warning, and the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office forecasts the blaze will continue through Friday night.
Acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state of emergency on Thursday afternoon.
Residents of Butte County ― and particularly Paradise, California, and its surrounding towns ― have been ordered to evacuate and take shelter in local churches in the neighboring town of Chico. Residents ― and even two police officers ― have also reported leaving their vehicles and evacuating on foot after being met with blackout conditions and gridlocked traffic on the county’s roads and highways.
Adventist Health Feather River, a hospital in Paradise, evacuated its patients on Thursday afternoon.
Classes have been canceled at Butte College and students have been told to evacuate. Residents in the small rural towns that make up Butte County have been ordered to evacuate their large animals or leave them in open pastures.
Thousands of people are without power. On Wednesday night, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. informed more than 70,000 customers in nine counties via email that it may be cutting power as a precaution. The company also said about 14,000 residents in Butte County and neighboring Plumas County were without power.
California firefighters say climate change is fueling more extreme and destructive fires, stretching resources thin and bringing increased health and safety risks to the job.
“We are not first responders anymore,” Michael Mohler, deputy director of Cal Fire, told HuffPost this summer. “We are extended responders.”
The numbers paint a clear picture of the threat California is facing.
Thirteen of the state’s 20 most-destructive fires on record have occurred since 2003. Coming in at No. 1 is the 2017 Tubbs fire, which torched some 5,600 structures and killed 22 people. The Carr fire this summer ― the No. 6 most destructive on record ― burned more than 200,000 acres, destroyed 1,600 structures and killed seven people, including three firefighters.
Additionally, 15 of the state’s 20 largest fires have occurred since 2002. The Mendocino Complex fire, which burned more than 450,000 acres north of Santa Rosa in July, surpassed last year’s Thomas fire as the largest wildfire in California’s history.
In responding to the extreme wildfires raging in California this summer, the Trump administration rolled out a dizzying display of misinformation and climate change denial. California fire officials dismissed President Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that the fires have been exacerbated by a water shortage resulting from “bad environmental laws.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has blamed wildfires in the West on “environmental terrorists,” traveled to fire-ravaged California in August to assess damage from the Carr fire. While there, he made clear that the administration has no interest in the scientific research showing climate change is contributing to the problem.
“I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change,” he told KCRA-TV in Sacramento. “This has to do with active forest management.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.