Fri. 8:44 a.m.: Heroism, harrowing escapes as fire destroys California town

Flames consume a car dealership as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town and destroyed hundreds of structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — A fast-moving wildfire that ravaged a Northern California town Thursday sent residents racing to escape on roads that turned into tunnels of fire as thick smoke darkened the daytime sky, wiping out what a Cal Fire official said was a couple of thousand structures.

“We were surrounded by fire, we were driving through fire on each side of the road,” said police officer Mark Bass, who lives in the hard-hit town of Paradise and works in neighboring Chico. He evacuated his family and then returned to the fire to help rescue several disabled residents, including a man trying to carry his bedridden wife to safety. “It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us.”

Harrowing tales of escape and heroic rescues emerged from Paradise, where the entire community of 27,000 was ordered to evacuate. Witnesses reported seeing homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement home up in flames.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it’s that kind of devastation,” said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean late Thursday. He estimated that a couple of thousand structures were destroyed in the town about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, portions of Southern California remained under siege early today with reports that two large fires had scorched about 15,000 acres and were threatening numerous communities. ABC7.com reported that some 75,000 homes are under evacuation orders along the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

The National Weather Service issued red-flag warnings for fire dangers in many areas of the state, saying low humidity and strong winds were expected to continue through the evening

The fire in Paradise was reported shortly after daybreak in a rural area. By nightfall, it had consumed more than 28 square miles and firefighters had no containment on the blaze, McLean said.

In the midst of the chaos, officials said they could not provide figures on the number of wounded, but County Cal Fire Chief Darren Read said at a news conference that at least two firefighters and multiple residents were injured.

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