THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — As wildfires swept over a large swath of California on Friday, the authorities said at least five people had been killed in a blaze that decimated a retirement community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Emergency workers at both ends of the state fought back the unrelenting fires as the northern city of Paradise smoldered and tens of thousands of residents west of Los Angeles fled their homes and jammed onto highways.
The bodies of five people were found “in vehicles that were overcome” by the fire in Paradise, Sheriff Kory L. Honea of Butte County said, adding that they had been so badly burned they could not immediately be identified.
More than 1.4 million acres have burned so far this year in California, roughly equal to the totals from the very destructive year of 2017, said Scott McLean, the deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Paradise, a forested retirement community of 27,000 people, had been razed, Mr. McLean said.
“The whole community is decimated,” he said. “It’s phenomenal how fast the fire spread.”
Mr. McLean, who rescued a lone, older woman rolling down a road in her wheelchair, described a frantic effort to evacuate Paradise, especially its older residents. “We started loading up buses as best we could,” he said.
Emergency workers evacuated patients from the Feather River Hospital in Paradise, Calif., on Thursday.CreditJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
On Friday morning near Paradise, the black smoke eclipsed the sun, leaving the area in near nighttime conditions. The air was thick with the smell of burning timber and scrub vegetation.
The so-called Camp Fire has burned 70,000 acres and is only 5 percent controlled, the authorities said. Firefighters in Chico, to the west of Paradise, were lined up on the outskirts of the city on Friday morning to try to push the fire away from homes and subdivisions.
Butte County officials reported that evacuation centers were filling up.
In Southern California, at least 75 homes were destroyed in and around Thousand Oaks — the city already grieving from the deadly nightclub shooting earlier this week.
Thick columns of smoke rose into the azure Southern California skies as the so-called Woolsey Fire burned 10,000 acres west of Los Angeles. More than 75,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties have been told to evacuate.
The authorities ordered the evacuation of parts of Malibu, the affluent community west of Los Angeles that is home to many Hollywood celebrities, as the fire raced through the hills and canyons above the Pacific Ocean. No part of the fire was under control, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
Assisted-living facilities rushed to move residents. At Atria Grand Oaks in Thousand Oaks, buses were brought in early Friday to move residents to two of the company’s other facilities in the Los Angeles area. A few miles away, officials at the Hillcrest Royale Retirement facility in Thousand Oaks decided around 10 a.m. on Friday that about 110 residents would be moved, even though the fire remained off in the distance. Employees were trying to alert the families of residents.
Firefighters moved a car from a burning home in Malibu, Calif.CreditRingo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press
California’s governor-elect, Gavin Newsom, declared a state of emergency Friday in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. On Thursday he declared emergency in northern Butte County and asked President Trump for federal assistance.
The Woolsey fire also shut down the 101 freeway, a major transportation artery connecting Los Angeles with points north.
A separate wildfire flared early Friday in Griffith Park, near Burbank and Glendale, and not far from downtown Los Angeles. Animals were being evacuated from the Los Angeles Zoo on the edge of the park.
Staff at the Los Angeles Zoo evacuated animals to protect them from a wildfire burning in Griffith Park. CreditRobyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“We have strong gusty winds up to 50 miles an hour,” said Bonnie Bartling, a specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, a city west of Los Angeles, which has also been threatened by fire. “We have extremely dry fuels and low relative humidities. It’s a bad combination.”
The Woolsey Fire delivered a one-two punch for Thousand Oaks, igniting just hours after a gunman opened fire inside a popular country music bar in the city on Wednesday night and killed 12 people. On Friday morning, people who had fled their homes gathered in a shelter set up at the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, which was used the day before as a meeting place for families and friends of shooting victims. Some slept on cots, while others huddled around a television to watch the latest news about the fire.
High winds and dry conditions fueled the Camp and Woolsey Fires through the night and presented tough conditions for the nearly 3,000 firefighters deployed to both blazes.
Residents in two cities in the north, Inskip and Sterling, were told on Friday morning to evacuate. And after the Woolsey Fire jumped the freeway and quickly expanded up a hill on the other side, the authorities in Ventura County shut down a section of Highway 101, a major artery in the region. Two colleges whose campuses are near that fire, Pepperdine University in Malibu and California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, canceled classes.