Five persons were pronounced dead and other 150,000 evacuated Friday as fierce wildfires raged across the western US state of California, with one rapidly spreading blaze threatening the famed Malibu resort.
Officials said, the victims died in their vehicles trying to escape a massive inferno in the northern California town of Paradise, where the entire population of 26,000 were ordered to leave.
“The preliminary investigations revealed that the victims were located in vehicles that were overcome by the Camp Fire,” said a statement by the Butte County Sheriff’s Department, adding that they had yet to be identified.
Dozens of other people were also reported missing.
Residents who managed to escape Paradise posted traumatic videos to social media as they drove through tunnels of swirling smoke and orange flames to outpace the wildfire in the Butte County town, north of Sacramento.
The fast-moving Camp Fire has been fanned by strong winds to scorch 8,093 hectares (20,000 acres) and has not been contained, the California Fire Department (Cal Fire) reported.
The flames consumed hundreds of homes, a hospital, a gas station, several restaurants and numerous vehicles in Paradise, officials added.
Houses were seen enveloped in flames, while others had already been reduced to ashes and cars burned to husks.
Authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for more than 50,000 persons in the scenic area in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including some residents of Chico, population 93,000, near Paradise.
“The magnitude of devastation we have seen is really unbelievable and heart breaking and our hearts go to everybody who has been affected by this,” said the director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Mark Ghilarducci.
Gavin Newsom, California Governor-elect declared a state of emergency to provide assistance to the areas affected by the incident.
A Cal Fire spokesman said around 2,000 buildings were believed to have been razed to ashes in Paradise. Among those evacuated were all of the patients at Feather River Hospital in Paradise.
More than 2,200 fire fighters were battling the blaze, backed up by water tankers and helicopters.
“This was a rapidly moving fire,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told the Chico Enterprise-Record. “And it moved very, very quickly from a rather remote area to populated areas.”
“The whole lower side of Paradise is totally engulfed in flames right now,” Kevin Winstead, a resident of nearby Magalia, told KIEM TV. “All of it is engulfed in flames right now.
“We’re just hoping that our brand new home that we were hoping to move into tomorrow is not burned to the ground,” Winstead said. “We’re kind of all shaking right now.”
Authorities added that around 105,000 people had been evacuated in southern California.
The “Woolsey Fire,” in Ventura County sparked evacuation orders for parts of the city of Thousand Oaks, where a Marine Corps veteran shot dead 12 people in a country music bar on Wednesday night.
The Ventura County Fire Department said the blaze had burned around 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) and evacuation orders were issued for some 88,000 homes in Ventura County and neighbouring Los Angeles County.