Tens of Thousands Flee Fast-Moving California Wildfire (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

Santa Ana Winds in the Forecast Ramping up Extreme Fire Threat in Southern California

By 8 a.m. Thursday morning, Paradise resident Tanah Clunies-Ross said she could not see her auto from her front door through the cloud of smoke.

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.

A wildfire (known as the "Camp Fire") in California is threatening to destroy thousands of homes and large amounts of property, prompting mass evacuations.

Weather forecasts showed numerous red flag warnings and wind alerts in the area Thursday into Friday.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. John Gaddie said crews were still focused Thursday on helping people get out of the town of Paradise.

The wildfire has spread from rural to populated areas, going from Pulga to Concow and down to Paradise, a town of 26,000 people about 85 miles north of Sacramento.

"We were surrounded by fire, we were driving through fire on each side of the road", said police officer Mark Bass, who lives in Paradise and works in neighboring Chico. He was wrong. It was the flush of the Camp Fire around the town that made him panic: "I was waving down people just anyone on the road just help me because I didn't have a auto or nothing". To make matters worse, as the flames approached, they sparked explosions and toppled utility poles. "People started getting out of their vehicles and running". After an hour of no movement, she abandoned the truck and made a decision to try her luck on foot. As of Friday morning, numerous roads leading out of town were closed. "They were going off like bombs", said Karen Auday, who escaped to a nearby town.

"This fire moved so fast and grew so fast a lot of people got caught by it".

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Kelly Lee called shelters looking for her husband's 93-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Herrera, who was last heard from on Thursday morning.

"It's the black of night at 9 a.m.", McClean said.

Wind in the valley calmed down, but they were still shifting and erratic along the ridgetops, with speeds of up to 45 miles per hour, he said. All of the people were found dead in their cars, that were "overcome by the Camp Fire", the sheriff said.

According to Sacramento Bee reporter Ryan Lillis, some 60 to 70 people were awaiting an emergency evacuation at a Walgreen's in Paradise.

The Camp Fire, burning in Butte County, has forced more than 20,000 Californians to evacuate and burned "multiple" structures, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Fanned by high winds and fueled by low humidity and dry vegetation, the fires spread rapidly Thursday and overnight into Friday.

Christy Dawn Little abandoned her Oak Park home, northeast of Thousand Oaks, around 11 p.m. PT.

At least 75,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties are under evacuation orders, and some structures have already been destroyed, officials said.

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