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Hundreds of homes destroyed by California wildfire, deaths reported

Hundreds of homes destroyed by California wildfire, deaths reported

PARADISE, Ca., Nov 8 (Reuters) - A fast-moving wildfire roared through a Northern California town on Thursday, with reports of fatalities as it burned hundreds of homes and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing 50-foot-high flames, authorities and a Reuters witness said.

Driven by strong winds and dry conditions, the blaze dubbed the Camp Fire swept through the town of Paradise, burning part of the local hospital and possibly destroying over a thousand homes and other structures, county and city officials said.

"We have received reports of some fatalities. Those reports have not yet been verified," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference.

Butte County Fire Chief Darren Read said there were multiple injuries among civilians and firefighters. The town of Chico, population 93,000, was potentially threatened as 35-mile-per hour winds drove the blaze westward, he added.

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Camp Fire and Hill Fire sweep across California

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This photo taken from video provided by CBS2/KCAL9 shows a wildfire burning in Camarillo, Calif., Thursday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2018. Known as the Hill fire, it here has crossed U.S. Highway 101, at center right, potentially threatening hundreds of homes. (CBS2/KCAL9 via AP)

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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.(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Medical personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The massive plume from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., wafts over the Sacramento Valley as seen from Chico, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Authorities in Northern California have ordered mandatory evacuations in a rural area where the wildfire has grown to 1,000 acres (405 hectares) amid hot and windy weather. (David Little/Chico Enterprise-Record via AP)

This photo provided by Nicole Kowalczyke shows a piece of a burned page that fell out of the sky in Chico, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, as the Camp Fire burns nearby. (Nicole Kowalczyke via AP)

Medical personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: Travis Lundgren, a street maintenance worker, uses a cooler of ice and water to help put out a flair up along Rancho Conejo Blvd. during the Hill Fire in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

A statue rests amid a charred lot as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: The Hill Fire burns in the hills east of Conejo Center Drive in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Smoke from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., darkens the sky as seen from Highway 99 near Marysville, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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.(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Smoke from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., darkens the sky above the Butte College sig in Oroville, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)

A police officer mans a checkpoint in front of an advancing wildfire Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. The Ventura County Fire Department has ordered evacuation of some communities in the path of the fire, which erupted a few miles from the site of Wednesday night's deadly mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Smoke from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., darkens the sky Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)

The Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A charred animal rests on a roadside as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Flames consume a home as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. A California fire official says a fast-moving wildfire in Northern California has destroyed structures and injured civilians. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Medical workers move equipment from a makeshift emergency room while the Feather River Hospital burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A vintage car rests among debris as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Flames consume a building as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. A California fire official says a fast-moving wildfire in Northern California has destroyed structures and injured civilians. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The setting sun turns blood red as it peers through smoke from the Camp Fire in northern Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)

A charred animal rests on a roadside as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Nurse Cassie Lerossignol hugs as coworker as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Medical personnel evacuate patients as the Feather River Hospital burns while the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A police officer directs traffic at a checkpoint in front of an advancing wildfire Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. The Ventura County Fire Department has also ordered evacuation of some communities in the path of the fire, which erupted a few miles from the site of Wednesday night's deadly mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A wildfire comes down from a hilltop Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. The Ventura County Fire Department has ordered evacuation of some communities in the path of the fire, which erupted a few miles from the site of Wednesday night's deadly mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Flames consume a car and building as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Plumes of smoke loom in the sky several miles away, seen behind a home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as a wind-driven wildfire known as the Hill fire threatens the area late Thursday afternoon, Nov. 4, 2018. This is a few miles from the scene of Wednesday's mass shooting at the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)

This photo provided by Nicole Kowalczyke shows smoke and ash from the nearby Camp Fire in Chico, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Nicole Kowalczyke via AP)

This photo provided by Nicole Kowalczyke shows heavy traffic with smoke and ash from the nearby Camp Fire overhead in Chico, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Nicole Kowalczyke via AP)

Smoke from the Camp Fire darkens the sky on the horizon as a bulldozer cuts a fire line to protect Butte College in Oroville, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Thompson)

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: A water dropping helicopter heads to fill up as the sun sets during the Hill Fire in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: A firefighter releases water dropping helicopters after they filled up near Conejo Center Drive during the Hill Fire in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: The Hill Fire burns in the hills east of Conejo Center Drive in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - NOVEMBER 08: The Hill Fire burns in the hills east of Conejo Center Drive in Thousand Oaks, CA, on Thursday, Nov 8, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

A home burns during the Camp fire in Paradise, California on November 8, 2018. - More than 18,000 acres have been scorched in a matter of hours burning with it a hospital, a gas station and dozens of homes. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

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Paradise resident who escaped on his motorbike, told local TV channel Action News Now. "We had to ride through flames to get here," he said from the side of a road west of Paradise.

With limited escape routes from the town, traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock, with residents abandoning vehicles and running from the flames carrying children and pets, officials said. One woman stuck in traffic went into labor, the Enterprise-Record newspaper reported.

"It’s very chaotic. It’s a very bad fire,” Officer Ryan Lambert of the California Highway Patrol said of the evacuation.

The blaze began early on Thursday and quickly charred 18,000 acres (3,237 hectares), forcing the evacuation of the 27,000 residents of Paradise, about 150 miles (240 km) northeast of San Francisco, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement.

Butte County supervisor Doug Teeter said authorities used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out the way to reach Feather River Hospital and evacuate patients as flames engulfed its old wing and the roof of the emergency department.

The Camp Fire was the fiercest of several wind-driven blazes that erupted across the state on Thursday.

California is experiencing one of its worst fire years ever, with 621,743 acres (251,610 hectares) burned through Sunday in areas covered by Cal Fire, nearly twice the amount during the same period of 2017 and nearly triple the five-year average. (Reporting by Stephen Lam in Paradise, California, Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Peter Cooney and Cynthia Osterman)

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