At Least Nine Dead as Wildfires Hit California in North and South

Wildfires across California have prompted evacuation orders and set ablaze tens of thousands of acres of land. Photo: AP

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.—Wildfires raged Friday on both ends of California, with at least nine people killed in the north and authorities ordering evacuations in the south, including the area still reeling from a mass shooting at a country-music bar earlier in the week.

The Woolsey Fire exploded to more than 14,000 acres after starting Thursday in a tinder-dry canyon of Ventura County. The fire raced toward the Pacific Ocean and prompted mandatory evacuations of as many as 75,000 homes all the way to the coast in Malibu.

Authorities Friday afternoon opened all four lanes of the northbound Pacific Coast Highway to southbound traffic, to hasten the flow of evacuees fleeing the path of the fire.

Smoke from the Woolsey Fire smoke in Malibu.
Smoke from the Woolsey Fire smoke in Malibu. Photo: Grant Denham and Cassie Denham

A site in nearby Thousand Oaks, Calif., that had served as a family-reunification center after Wednesday’s shooting at Borderline Bar & Grill, in which 12 people were slain, is now being used as an evacuation center for people fleeing the fire that charred the nearby hills.

In Northern California, the 70,000-acre Camp Fire, which started early Thursday, continued to threaten an estimated 15,000 structures after destroying about 2,000 homes and other structures. It already had laid waste to much of the city of Paradise, a community of about 27,000 people in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Double Threat

In Northern California, the Camp Fire is putting at risk thousands of structures after engulfing the city of Paradise. Meanwhile, two wildfires in Southern California have charred acres close to dense suburban areas.

Active wildfires as of Friday

Areas burned Thursday

Urban areas

Woolsey Fire



Los Angeles

More than 1,000 homes and other structures were believed destroyed, while dozens of people remained missing from a town of many retirees where fire officials said many people couldn’t flee fast enough. Officials of the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said five bodies had been found in vehicles in one area of Paradise. Deputy Chief Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the people died trying to escape the fire.

Officials late Friday said there were at least nine fatalities from the Northern California fire, Associated Press reported.

Authorities didn’t have an estimate for the total number of deceased. Others cautioned that many of the missing may just be out of contact and will turn up later.

In Ventura County, another 6,000-acre wildfire called the Hill Fire also broke out Thursday—in a less populated area—adding to the deep anxiety in the area following the mass shooting.

“This is like a one-two punch for the people of Thousand Oaks,” said Troy Slaten, an attorney for the owner of Borderline.

Traffic disruptions from the Hill fire caused a delay Thursday of between three and seven hours for victims of the shooting as well as the gunman to be transported to the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office in Ventura, officials there said.

“What more can we take?” said Karissa Herbert, a 17-year-old high-school senior who came to the evacuation center to drop off supplies and volunteer with two friends. The three said everyone they knew in the close-knit, quiet community had some connection to the Borderline tragedy.

By late morning Friday, the teen center was housing 250 residents seeking shelter from evacuations.

The center went quiet for mere hours Thursday night before switching from housing those seeking word that loved ones were safe to those fleeing the fire. One of those evacuated was Rob McCoy, mayor pro tem of Thousand Oaks and a pastor who had consoled families at the teen center after the shooting.

“We had to evacuate last night after a 24-hour day, due to the shootings,” Mr. McCoy said. “But my family is fine. We got everything with a heartbeat out of the house.”

The wildfire that started Thursday in Paradise, Calif., damaged vehicles.
The wildfire that started Thursday in Paradise, Calif., damaged vehicles. Photo: Hector Amezcua/Zuma Press

Steven and Kathy Smith, who live next to brush-covered hills in Thousand Oaks, had spent much of Thursday making sure friends of their college-age son were accounted for after the shooting. After they found none had gone to the bar, Mr. Smith said he dozed off.

“When I woke up, there was this certain orange cast to the sky that was part and parcel with a wildfire,” said Mr. Smith, 59, an aerospace consultant and engineer. “I thought, ‘Of all the things to happen now, a wildfire.’ ”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, acting in the absence of Gov. Jerry Brown, who was out of the state, issued an emergency proclamation Friday for Los Angeles and Ventura counties in connection with the Hill and Woolsey fires, after issuing one Thursday in Butte County to assist in the Camp Fire.

The wildfires broke out as California typically enters its rainy season, but this year the state has been locked under a high-pressure system that has blocked Pacific storms. Meanwhile, fire officials say the state is still recovering from an extreme five-year drought that left millions of trees weakened and dead.

The blaze known as the Camp Fire burned Thursday through the Northern California town of Paradise.
The blaze known as the Camp Fire burned Thursday through the Northern California town of Paradise. Photo: Neal Waters/Zuma Press

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said Friday that fire-fueling winds would pick up again late Sunday after a short reprieve.

Write to Sara Randazzo at and Jim Carlton at

Appeared in the November 10, 2018, print edition as ‘Wildfires, One Deadly, Scorch California.’