California fire that killed 3 threatens thousands of homes

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California wildfire threatened thousands of homes Thursday after winds whipped it into a monster that incinerated houses in a small mountain community and killed at least three people.

Several other people have been critically burned and hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and other buildings are believed to have been damaged or destroyed by the fire in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada, authorities said.

About 20,000 people were under evacuation orders or warnings in Plumas, Yuba and Butte counties.

Another California fire raging along the Oregon border destroyed 150 homes near the community of Happy Camp and one person was confirmed dead, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. About 400 more homes were threatened.

Numerous destructive wildfires were also burning in Oregon and Washington state.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the so-called North Complex fire near the small Northern California city of Oroville — which had been burning for weeks in forestland and was 50% contained — exploded to six times its size as winds gusting to 45 mph (72 kph) drove a path of destruction through mountainous terrain and parched foothills.

The winds subsided Wednesday but the fire was only 24% contained and officials said the fire was still very dangerous.

“Time and time again we have seen how dangerous wildfires can be. … So I ask that you please, please please be prepared, maintain situational awareness and heed the warnings,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea pleaded.

Honea announced the three deaths but declined to provide details. California Highway Patrol Officer Ben Draper told the Bay Area News Group that one person was found in a car and apparently had been trying to escape the flames.

Many homes were incinerated in the Butte County hamlet of Berry Creek, with a population of 525 people.

John Sykes, a 50-year resident, managed to flee on Tuesday with his car and some clothes but watched the town burn from about a mile (1.6 kilometers) away.

“The school is gone, the fire department’s gone, the bar’s gone, the laundromat’s gone, the general store’s gone,” he told the Sacramento Bee, adding, “I’ll never go back.”

“I don’t want to see it,” he said. “That’s why I’m leaving. I never want to see California again.”

Four burn victims were taken to UC Davis Medical Center in critical condition, the Bee reported.

The fire also threatened Paradise, the Northern California town devastated two years ago by the deadliest blaze in state history that prompted a deadly traffic jam as panicked residents tried to escape. Eighty-five people lost their lives and nearly 19,000 buildings were destroyed in that fire.

On Wednesday, the sky turned from black to cherry red and ash carried on strong winds rained down in a scene reminiscent from the fateful morning of Nov. 8, 2018, former Mayor Steve “Woody” Culleton said.

“It was extremely frightening and ugly,” Culleton said. “Everybody has PTSD and what not, so it triggered everybody and caused terror and panic.”

Even in the midst of its dry, hot, windy fire season, California has experienced wildfires advancing with unprecedented speed and ferocity.

52 PHOTOSCalifornia wildfiresSee GalleryCalifornia wildfiresAn air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffery Shipman, left, stands along California State Highway 168 as the Creek Fire burns in the near vicinity, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)The Creek Fire burns in the Sierra National Forest, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, near Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighters stage near a Southern California Edison power station to protect it from the advancing Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter covers himself from flying embers while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Members of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, walk down a hillside while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter uses a hose to try to extinguish flames from a burning structure while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Members of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, monitor hot spots while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A member of the Laguna Hotshots, out of the Cleveland National Forest, monitors flames caused by the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Big Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from the Bobcat Fire is seen from California State Highway 39 in Azusa, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020 The heat wave was expected to spread triple-digit temperatures over much of California through Monday. Temperatures in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles reached 116 degrees (46 Celsius) for the second day in a row, forecasters said. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)Gabe Huck, right, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, stands along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from wildfires clouds the sky over greater Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, as seen from Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/John Antczak)Firefighters ignite a controlled burn with drip torches while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter runs along state Highway 168 with a flare as part of a controlled burn to fight the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighter Ricardo Gomez, of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, sets a controlled burn with a drip torch while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)CORRECTS MONTH TO SEPTEMBER INSTEAD OF AUGUST – People load water into their car in front of a Trader Joe’s grocery store as smoke from the Bobcat Fire rises in the background, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Azusa, Calif. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)A firefighter watches the advancing Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Firefighters stage along the lake while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter walks along state Highway 168 with a drip torch during a controlled burn to fight the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite a controlled burn as he fights the Creek Fire along state Highway 168, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Smoke from the Creek Fire fills the air over a boating dock, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Gabe Huck, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, walks along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Los Angeles Fire Department personnel work to douse several small brush fires in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters hike into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles fire department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire at the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was ablaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters make their way into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Smoke rises from a wildfire burning at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A firefighter works on hotspot at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A helicopter drops water at wildfire burns near homes at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A helicopter drops water at wildfire burns near homes at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Three fast-spreading wildfires sent people fleeing and trapped campers in one campground as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in many parts of California. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Los Angeles fire department firefighters work to put out a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighters work to put out a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighter works to douse the remains of a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A Los Angeles fire department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)Los Angeles fire department firefighters hike into the Sepulveda Basin to fight a brush fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)A helicopter prepares to drop water at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns near homes in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)Firefighters rest during a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A firefighter works on hotspots at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An air tanker drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A plane drops retardant at a wildfire burns at a hillside in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)A wildfire burns in Yucaipa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)An orange sky filled with wildfire smoke hangs above hiking trails at the Limeridge Open Space in Concord, California, on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by Brittany HOSEA-SMALL / AFP) (Photo by BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/AFP via Getty Images)SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPT. 9: San Francisco City Hall is seen under a sky glowing orangedue to smoke from the wildfires on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 in San Francisco, Calif. (Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)A law enforcement officer watches flames launch into the air as fire continues to spread during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. – Dangerous dry winds whipped up California’s record-breaking wildfires and ignited new blazes Tuesday, as hundreds were evacuated by helicopter and tens of thousands were plunged into darkness by power outages across the western United States. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)OAKLAND, CA – SEPT. 9 This photo of the Mormon Temple, taken with a daylight white balance, shows the effect of smoke from surrounding wildfires in the sky above Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, September 09, 2020. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)NAPA, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 09: Golfers warm up on the driving range during the preview day of the Safeway Open at Silverado Country Club on September 9, 2020 in Napa, California. Wildfires rage throughout the state as record high temperatures and dry vegetation fuel the fast-moving, destructive blazes.(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)Up Next

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Since the middle of August, fires in California have killed 12 people, destroyed more than 3,600 buildings, burned old growth redwoods, charred chaparral and forced evacuations in communities near the coast, in wine country north of San Francisco and along the Sierra Nevada.

Thick smoke choked much of the state and cast an eerie orange hue across the sky on Wednesday.

In some areas of the San Francisco Bay Area and to the east in the Sacramento Valley, the smoke blocked out so much sunlight that it dropped the temperature by 20 to 30 degrees over the previous day, according to the National Weather Service.

More than two dozen major fires were burning around the state, some of them among the largest ever recorded in recent California history.

The U.S. Forest Service, which had taken the unprecedented measure of closing eight national forests in Southern California earlier in the week, ordered all 18 of its forests in the state closed Wednesday for public safety.

In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. People in foothill communities east of Los Angeles were warned to be ready to flee, but the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds were weaker than predicted.

“We’re encouraged that the wind activity appears to be dying down,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “The rest of the week looks a little more favorable.”

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Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers John Antczak in Los Angeles and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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