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Fires burn Camelot, threaten Paradise

10,000+ told to leave as northern CA wildfires burn more land, air quality now considered "hazardous" in some communities


"We’ve never experienced anything like this before"

—Rev. Rod Platte, Paradise Lutheran Church

More than 10,000 people who live in this town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are being encouraged to evacuate as the fires draw closer and the air quality is now rated as "hazardous."

It is the second time in three weeks that residents of this Butte County community of more than 50,000 have been faced with a fire threat. The last time, 74 homes were destroyed. On Tuesday, as many as 50 more were lost as fires raced through the town of Concow and a neighborhood known locally as Camelot.

The Rev. Bob Biehler of Paradise United Methodist Church said the “psychological impact” of this week’s fires after the June fire, is weighing heavily on the minds of many people.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” said the Rev. Rod Platte of Paradise Lutheran Church. “It’s a new phenomenon.”

Three families in his congregation lost their homes when the fires burned into the southeastern edge of the city in June. Tuesday, as the temperatures reached 110-degrees and ashes rained down like snow, a local family was temporarily living an air-conditioned Sunday School classroom. “People are tired of living on the edge . . .” waiting . . . Platte added.

As firefighters tried to ward off the flames and emergency officials set mandatory and precautionary evacuation zones, local pastors were checking on members of their congregations and making sure each of them had a safe place to go. Two shelters were opened in local churches Tuesday for Paradise area residents.

Telling residents in the mandatory evacuation areas if “you’ve been told to leave, don’t stay,” Paradise’s Director of Emergency Services, Chuck Rough added, there won’t be a “last minute knock on the door to get out.”

Located in the mandatory evacuation area, the Feather River Hospital moved critically ill patients during the day Tuesday and was evacuating most of the rest of the hospital Tuesday night.

The Butte County fires had been burning in largely unpopulated areas for nearly three weeks when they exploded and changed direction early Tuesday morning as the fires began burning out of control toward more populated areas.

Tuesday night, emergency officials were using bulldozers to widen a firebreak and hoping the fire would stay east of a branch of the Feather River. But forecasters were not encouraging, warning of increasing eastern winds that could potentially drive the fire into the city and emergency management officials expanded the immediate threat evacuation zone late Tuesday night.

Other Butte County communities including Jonesville and Butte Meadows have also been evacuated. Emergency officials evacuated a nearby Boy Scout camp.

But even as local citizens keep a wary eye on the fires, residents of neighboring communities have been reaching out to help. “I’ve really been kind of astounded by the response,” Platte said. “People have been calling and asking ‘what can we do?’” A church in San Diego sent a batch of food gift cards to distribute to fire survivors.

Meanwhile, along the California coast, firefighters reported progress fighting two massive wildfires near Santa Barbara and Big Sur. Many residents who had been forced from their homes near Santa Barbara were allowed to go home Tuesday

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