UPDATE 5-Five dead in California wildfire as second blaze forces Malibu evacuation

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PARADISE, Calif., Nov 9 (Reuters) – Five people died in Northern California when flames engulfed their vehicles as they attempted to flee Paradise, a mountain town north of Sacramento mostly destroyed by one of three wildfires raging across the state, authorities said on Friday.

Nearly 500 miles to the south, a second blaze forced the evacuation of the upscale oceanside city of Malibu and threatened the beleaguered town of Thousand Oaks, where a gunman killed 12 people this week in a rampage in a bar and dance hall. A third wildfire was also expanding in Southern California’s Ventura County.

As of early Friday, the Camp Fire advanced rapidly to the outskirts of Chico, 90 miles north of Sacramento, forcing thousands to flee the city after engulfing the nearby town of Paradise, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) officials said at a news conference.

The blaze, which broke out on Thursday, had more than tripled in size to 70,000 acres (2838 hectares) and was only 5 percent contained.

“The town is devastated, everything is destroyed,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott Maclean, referring to Paradise, which has a population of 26,000.

In addition to the five people found dead in their vehicles, many were forced to abandon their cars and run for their lives down the sole road through the mountain town. About 2,000 structures were destroyed in the area, officials said.

In Southern California, the 10,000-acre (4,047-hectare) Woolsey Fire led authorities on Friday morning to expand mandatory evacuation orders to the entire city of Malibu, known for the many celebrities that call it home.

“If you are ready to go, go,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Chief John Benedict told those in evacuations areas. “And if you’ve been told to go, get out of there.”

In all, the Woolsey Fire led authorities to issue evacuation orders for 75,000 homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Video shot from a news helicopter showed cars at a standstill on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, about 30 miles (48 km) west of downtown Los Angeles. An unspecified number of homes were destroyed there, according to local media.

The Woolsey Fire broke out on Thursday and quickly jumped the 101 Freeway toward Malibu. It was also threatening parts of nearby Thousand Oaks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of the shooting massacre earlier this week.

A former U.S. Marine combat veteran opened fire in a bar packed with college students in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday night, killing 12 people and stunning a community with a reputation for safety.


Linda Parks, a Ventura County supervisor, whose district covers Thousand Oaks, lamented the timing of the wildfire, coming so soon after the massacre.

“We are still reeling, but we are also very resilient,” she said.

No fatalities have been reported in two southern California wildfires.

California Acting Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday declared a state of emergency for areas affected by the Woolsey and Hill fires in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Also burning in Ventura County was the Hill Fire, which had scorched about 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) on Friday morning, Lorenzen said.

Strong winds were expected in the mountains and valleys of Ventura County and in coastal areas, the NWS said. (Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Bernadette Baum)