(Reuters) – Tens of thousands of residents in Northern California were forced to flee a rapidly spreading wildfire on Thursday, as strong winds and dry conditions drove the blaze toward several small towns, state authorities said.
There were reports of destroyed homes and buildings, but fire officials said it was too early to confirm the incidents.
The blaze dubbed the Camp Fire began early on Thursday and quickly charred 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares), forcing the evacuation of the 27,000 residents of Paradise, about 150 miles (241 kms) northeast of San Francisco, and other communities, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.
“It’s bad,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told local newspaper the Enterprise-Record. “We’re trying to get as many people out as quickly as possible and save as many lives as we can.”
Images posted on Twitter showed thick, gray smoke choking the sky above Paradise.
“Multiple vehicles and structures being lost, fire fighters are attempting to make a stand but fire behavior is extreme,” tweeted Bernie Deyo, who identified himself as a fire information tweeter.
Deyo said one of the main buildings at Feather River Hospital in Paradise was on fire, with 30-40 patients in the hospital still waiting to be evacuated.
Calls to the hospital did not go through.
Fire authorities did not indicate how the blaze started.
The fire has cut off power to roughly 34,000 customers in Butte and Plumas counties, according to a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric.
Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown