Civilians injured, structures destroyed as wildfire spreads in Butte County

PULGA, Calif. (KTVU and AP) -- Hundreds of people in Butte County remain unaccounted for Thursday amid a fast-moving wildfire that has burned 20,000 acres, destroyed several hundred structures, injured civilians and firefighters and forced thousands from their homes, officials said Thursday. 

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said his office has received at least 600 requests to check on residents in or near the fire zone. Honea said at least 400 of those requests have not been completed. Honea also said there are unconfirmed reports of fatalities from the fire,

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. John Gaddie said he did not know how many structures have been destroyed or the extent of people's injuries.

Related: KTVU Chief Meteorologist Bill Martin live from the firestorm in Paradise

The fire, which forced some fleeing residents to drive through walls of flames and others to abandon their vehicles as they headed to safe ground, is burning about 80 acres per minute, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company says it has shut off power and suspended natural gas service to roughly 34,000 customers in Butte and Plumas counties as the fire continues to rage.

Earlier Thursday, Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Butte County, opening up the possibility for federal assistance in fighting the wildfire.

The blaze started in a rural area of Camp Creek Road and Pulga Road near Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon and spread rapidly to populated areas. 

Evacuation orders have been issued for Paradise, a town of about 27,000 people, the tiny town of Pulga as well as Magalia, Concow, Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley. 

Butte College has also evacuated and Adventist Health Feather River says it has moved patients from a Paradise hospital to other nearby hospitals because of the fire. All public schools in Butte County will be closed Friday.

One Twitter user posted, "My mother is trapped with other drivers on Pearson Rd in Paradise with houses burning nearby. People leaving vehicles and running with children and pets."

Alexia Miller of Oroville posted video on Facebook of a FaceTime conversation she and her dad had with her mother as her mother escaped the fire.

Miller tells KTVU her mother is a charge nurse at Feather River Hospital in Paradise, and was leaving the parking lot when she became trapped in the blaze. The video shows was a wall of fire around the parking lot with nowhere to go. Miller reports her mom was able to get out of the parking lot and returned home safe. 

Shelley Freeman says she heard from a friend that people, horses and dogs had congregated in a parking lot of a Kmart in the town of Paradise. The friend waiting there with dogs in her car described to her all the trees around the store as on fire. 

Freeman says her friend described being surrounded by explosions in the parking lot and soon being unable to see the fire because of all the smoke.

Freeman says she's had trouble reaching her family and friends who live in the area because phone lines are down. Those she has heard from say the roads are gridlocked.

Freeman says she's scared for everyone and feels helpless from far away.

Tina Greer says the Paradise care home where her disabled son lives with five other patients is evacuating, but it takes time to pack the patients' medical equipment and medicine. Her 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy, needs a wheelchair to get around and is fed through a tube.

Greer says heavy ash is falling in Chico, about 14 miles west of the fire.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings in much of Northern California, saying low humidity and strong winds are expected to continue through Friday evening.

Stay with KTVU.com for the latest. 

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