Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate a fast-moving wildfire that exploded in size Thursday, threatening several Northern California communities and forcing panicked residents to race to help neighbors who had to drive through walls of flames to escape, the AP reports. It was not immediately known if there were injuries or fatalities. As people fled in cars, some abandoned their vehicles, running from encroaching flames as they held babies in their arms and pets, said Gina Oviedo, who described a devastating scene as she evacuated the town of Paradise. Flames were engulfing homes, utility poles were crashing down and things were exploding, she said.
"It's a very dangerous and very serious situation," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told the AP. "I'm driving through fire as we speak. We're doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas." He confirmed reports that evacuees had to abandon their vehicles as they fled the scene. "We're getting them on other vehicles with room. We're working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is if you can evacuate, you need to evacuate," Honea said. All of Paradise, a town of about 27,000 people 180 miles northeast of San Francisco, was ordered to evacuate, said Butte County Sheriff's spokeswoman Miranda Bowersox. The wildfire was reported at 6:30am. Strong winds, dry conditions, and low humidity are making things worse. (A gender-reveal party set off a massive wildfire.)