A Northern California wildfire threatened thousands of homes Thursday after winds whipped it into a monster that incinerated houses in small mountain communities.
Several other people were critically burned and about 2,000 structures, including homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed in the foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada, authorities said.
About 20,000 people were under evacuation orders or warnings in three counties.
Another fire raging along the Oregon border destroyed 150 homes near the community of Happy Camp and one person was confirmed dead, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said. About 400 more homes were threatened.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the North Complex fire near the small Northern California city of Oroville — which had been burning for weeks in forestland and was 50% contained — exploded to six times its size as winds gusting to 45 mph (72 kph) drove a path of destruction through mountainous terrain and parched foothills.
“Time and time again we have seen how dangerous wildfires can be. … So I ask that you please, please please be prepared, maintain situational awareness and heed the warnings,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea pleaded.
Honea announced the three deaths but declined to provide details. California Highway Patrol Officer Ben Draper told the Bay Area News Group that one person was found in a car and apparently had been trying to escape the flames.
Many homes were incinerated in the hamlet of Berry Creek, with a population of 525 people.