By Stephen Lam
PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Three wind-whipped wildfires burned in California on Friday morning, including one that spurred the evacuation of 75,000 homes near a city that was still reeling from a mass shooting.
Voluntary evacuations of 75,000 homes were called for because of the Woolsey Fire that affected parts of Thousand Oaks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of a shooting massacre this week.
A former U.S. Marine combat veteran opened fire in a bar packed with college students in the town on Wednesday night, killing 12 people and stunning a community with a reputation for safety.
An evacuation site was at capacity at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, which had also served as a family assistance and reunification site following the shooting.
Several evacuation centers were issuing protective masks for citizens, Ventura County Emergency Services said. Many schools were closed in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Parts of the oceanside city of Malibu, about 30 miles (48 km) west of downtown Los Angeles, were under evacuation orders, local media reported.
The Woolsey blaze also affected parts of Los Angeles County, where mandatory evacuation orders were in effect as of Friday morning south of U.S. Highway 101, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.
“Immediate” mandatory evacuations were set for canyons east and close to Malibu, said a post on Twitter by Malibu Search Rescue just before 7 a.m. PT (1500 GMT), which added: “Do not wait!”
The fire had jumped Highway 101 in several places and was moving southwards coastal Malibu. Parts of that major freeway were closed in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, officials said.
The fire ignited Thursday afternoon south of the city of Simi Valley, Ventura County officials said.
Also burning in Ventura County was the Hill Fire, which had torched 10,000 acres (4047 hectares) by Thursday night, officials said.
In Northern California, the Camp Fire had more than tripled in size to 70,000 acres (2838 hectares) and was 5 percent contained, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) officials said at a briefing on Friday morning, adding those estimates were preliminary.
The blaze advanced rapidly to the outskirts of the city of Chico early on Friday, forcing thousands to flee after it left the nearby town of Paradise in ruins, Cal Fire said.
Evacuation notices were set for homes on the east side of Chico, a city of about 93,000 people about 90 miles north of Sacramento.
The Chico Fire Department said: “Firefighters continue to actively engage the fire in order to protect life and property.”
Flames from the unchecked, 20,000-acre (8,100-hectare) Camp Fire were being driven westward by 35-mile-per hour winds, officials said.
The blaze earlier ripped through Paradise, about 20 miles east of Chico.
“The town is devastated, everything is destroyed,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott Maclean.
Maclean said an as-yet unspecified number of civilians and firefighters were injured and it could be days before authorities learn of any fatalities.
In Paradise, located on a ridge and with limited escape routes, traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock. That prompted residents to abandon their vehicles and run from the flames, carrying children and pets, officials said.
“It’s very chaotic,” said Officer Ryan Lambert of the California Highway Patrol.
The fire began early on Thursday and was the fiercest of several wind-driven blazes across California, in one of the worst years for wildfires in the state.
Strong winds were expected in the mountains and valleys of Ventura County and in coastal areas, the NWS said. Those winds had already help double the size of the Woolsey Fire to 8,000 acres (3238 hectares), fire officials said.
Travel was limited on U.S. Highway 101 in the county, and parts of the highway were closed in both counties, highway patrol troopers said.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and Brendan O’Brien; editing by John Stonestreet and Bernadette Baum)