Deaths feared as wildfire engulfs North California town

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Pacific Gas & Electric, the state's largest utility, announced Tuesday it might preemptively cut power to eight California counties starting Thursday morning to prevent a possible wildfire, including Butte County where the Camp Fire is located.

Earlier, at 8 p.m., the Butte County Sheriff's Office issued evacuation orders for the area on both sides of Oro Chico Highway from Durham Dayton north to Estates Drive.

At least 27,000 people in the town of Paradise about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco were ordered to flee Thursday. The fire was spreading at a rapid rate after it sparked around 6:30 a.m., expanding from 1,000 to 18,000 acres in a matter of hours. McLean said that by the middle of the day, there was so much smoke in the air, it looked like it was nighttime.

Smoke from the wind-driven fire, which started Thursday morning, can be seen from as far away as 150 miles.

The fire forced the evacuation of patients from Paradise's main hospital to hospitals in Oroville and Chico.

"Luckily, the fire broke out early enough that there were only a few students there and we had a plan".

On social media, many have been sharing images of highways and roads flanked by fire or covered in heavy smoke and asking for help to evacuate friends and family. It's very surreal. Things always work out, but the unknown is a little scary.

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Cal Fire spokesman Scott McClean said the fire is burning toward the city of Chico but he's "not necessarily" concerned the fire will breach the city limits.

Flames consume a building as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, California.

Evacuated hospital patients are being taken to hospitals throughout the region. She said she did not know the exact number of people evacuated.

The California Highway Patrol closed Highway 70 near the fire and urged motorists to avoid the area. She said people left their vehicles and ran when they started hearing explosions.

"Every engine that we could put on the fire is on the fire right now, and more are coming", he said.

Aside from the winds, low relative humidity in the area was making firefighters' jobs harder, and the area was under a red flag warning Thursday.

Driven by strong winds and dry conditions, the blaze dubbed the Camp Fire swept through the town of Paradise, burning part of the local hospital and possibly destroying over a thousand homes and other structures, county and city officials said.

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