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3 Killed As Bear Fire Explodes In Butte County; Thousands Of Homes Threatened

PLUMAS COUNTY (CBS13/AP) — The latest on the North Complex and Bear wildfires burning in the Plumas National Forest:

11 p.m. 

The North Complex Fire has already destroyed more than 250,000 acres, forcing evacuations in surrounding counties including Butte, Plumas and Yuba. The fast-moving flames are destroying the forest around Oroville Lake, taking out trees, vegetation, and power lines.
Some downed lines blocked Highway 162 Wednesday as CBS13 crews made their way through the Bear Fire.
Officials say the North Complex Fire, which includes the Bear Fire, has grown significantly in acreage since Tuesday night. The growth is due in part to strong winds moving this fire along quickly. The US Forest Service is leading this firefight with significant help from Cal Fire and surrounding agencies using everything they have to stop the spread.
"Every asset the department can get his hands on we are using. So that includes hand cruise engines dozers aircraft. Everything that we can throw at the fire we are," Robert Foxworthy, a spokesperson for Cal Fire, said.
Cal Fire says there are more resources and crews on the way to help get the North Complex Fire under control.
This fire still actively burning and moving very quickly.

6:31 p.m. 

Three people have died in the Bear Fire, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said during a virtual briefing Wednesday evening. The sheriff said two of the victims were found in the same location while the third was found in a different location. The identities of the victims have not been released.

Additionally, Sheriff Honea said 12 people are still missing after evacuations were ordered Tuesday night. The Butte County Sheriff's Office received 85 missing person reports or requests for welfare checks. So far, deputies have located  73 individuals who are safe.

Hundreds of homes and other buildings are believed to have been damaged or destroyed, fire officials said at an evening news conference.

The fire even threatened the town of Paradise that was devastated just two years ago by the deadliest blaze in state history, causing a panic that led to a traffic jam as residents tried to escape.

The North Complex fire was one of more than two dozen in the state, including three of the five largest ever as wildfires burned across parts of the West amid gusty, dry conditions. Forecasters said some weather relief was in sight that could help firefighters overwhelmed by the blazes.

Since the middle of August, fires in California have killed eight people, destroyed more than 3,600 structures, burned old growth redwoods, charred chaparral and forced evacuations in communities near the coast, in wine country and along the Sierra Nevada.

4:51 p.m. 

Neighborhoods around Lake Oroville remain under evacuation orders as first responders look for people who are still unaccounted for after a night of evacuations.

Law enforcement does not have an official number of how many people have been hurt or how many are missing, but the Butte County Sheriff's Office is dedicating a team to find lost family members.

Off Simmons Road just northeast of Lake Oroville, many homes were destroyed. According to the U.S. Forest Service, a "significant amount" of structures were lost." They estimate the North Complex Fire, which includes the Bear Fire, has grown to 252,000 acres.

Outside of the destruction, some families just hope to be reunited with their loved ones.

Brenda Hampton evacuated from her home in Concow with her granddaughter Raelynn. She has not heard from her three sons since last night. The pair spent the night outside of a Walmart as ash blew through her car window.

Hands still shaking, Hampton said she's reliving this once again after her home was destroyed in the Camp Fire.

Maryiann Bowiek was dropped off by fire crews Wednesday morning. She has no hope for her home in Feather Falls.

"I don't see them saving that valley. I just can't see it. There's just so much dead wood up there," Bowiek said.

Fire whipped across Highway 162 overnight. The heat was so intense that trees far from the fire were torched. Officials say it's now burning into the Camp Fire burn scar.

Those who know fire say they've never seen it get so close.

"Absolutely the most intense one I've been at. There's been more upsetting ones, but this is the firiest one," an evacuee told CBS13.

Cal Fire has reported some burn injuries, but the extent of injuries and the number of injured people is not clear.

Some have taken to social media, asking people to look out for their missing loved ones, including a 16-year-old boy from Berry Creek.

11:45 a.m.

Butte County authorities have issued an Evacuation Warning for part of the town of Paradise due to the Bear Fire.

Officials stress that there is no fire currently reported in the town, or in the Concow area. However, Cal Fire is keeping a close eye on the eastern side of Paradise.

The evacuation warning is in effect for Zone 14, east of Pentz Road.

Paradise was the city that was mostly destroyed in the 2018 Camp Fire. An estimated 4,400 people still call the town home, down from the 26,000 who lived there before the wildfire.

9:28 a.m.

Fanned by heavy wind, firefighters say the North Complex Fire exploded in size on Tuesday and into Wednesday.

The US Forest Service says, at some points, the fire spread at a rate of 1,000 acres every 30 minutes. The wildfire grew by an additional 80,000 acres southwest of the original footprint as of Wednesday morning, making it a total of 150,140 acres.

Topography and dry fuels also helped the flames spread at an unprecedented rate, firefighters say.

Containment stands at 38 percent, authorities say. More than 1,400 personnel have responded to fight the fire.

Evacuations remain in place in parts of Plumas, Butte and Yuba counties.

7:45 a.m.

An evacuation warning has been issued for the north side of Highway 70 in the area of Lower Concow.

5:55 a.m.

More mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for the Bear Fire.

Per the Butte County Sheriff, the following areas are now under immediate evacuation orders: Cherokee Road at Highway 70, south to Thompson Flat Cemetery Road and all areas east to Lake Oroville.

The temporary evacuation point has also been moved to the Gridley Fairgrounds.

An evacuation warning is now in effect for the following areas: Highway 70 at Garden Drive, south to Lower Honcut Road, Lower Honcut Road east to Bangor, and everything east to the borders of the current evacuation orders.

All evacuation orders can be found in this map.

Previous day's updates below:

11 p.m.

Evacuation orders have been expanded to the Kelly Ridge and Copley Acres communities, the Butte County Sheriff said. In a tweet, the sheriff's office said all previous evacuation warnings have become orders.

Additionally, Highway 162 is closed from Canyon Drive to Foreman Creek in Butte County due to the fire.

10:55 p.m. 

Immediate evacuations ordered for Butte County residents east of Miners Ranch Road at Highway 162 and Oro-Bangor Highway, including Bangor and part of the Mt. Ida area, the Butte County Sheriff said.

According to Cal Fire, crews are headed up to the Forbestown area to help residents evacuate.

Residents in evacuation zones are urged to leave immediately.

10 p.m. 

The North Complex exploded Tuesday, partially in Plumas County, where the Bear Fire grew 1,000 acres every 30 minutes, blanketing the sky above the Oroville Evacuation Center in ash.

Officials say the North Complex Fire has burned more than 40,800 acres and is 51% contained.

"It's so dark up there. It's so smoky up there. It's so windy up there," evacuee Jay Thao said.

The smoke and flames blocked out the sun and the wind made for fast-moving fire, forcing residents in several Northern California counties to evacuate.

"They told us we got to leave. We can't go back up there. It's sad because you don't know what's up there you know that you're losing up there. That's pretty sad," Thao said.

The U.S. Forest Service is leading the fight against the North Complex fire with help from neighboring agencies while the Red Cross is working to take in the displaced families at the Oroville evacuation center.

A map of the areas affected can be found here.

3:42 p.m.

A mandatory evacuation order is issued for residents in the area of La Porte Road & New York Flat Road, north of Brownsville to the border of Butte and Plumas Counties. This includes Forbestown, Woodleaf, Clipper Mills, and Strawberry Valley, the Yuba County Sheriff's Office says.

12:30 p.m.

A mandatory evacuation notice has been given for the town of La Porte and the Little Grass Valley Reservoir late Tuesday morning.

The Plumas County Sheriff's Office says all residents in the town of La Porte and people in the campgrounds and recreational facilities at Little Grass Valley Road west of Quincy La Porte Road are being ordered to get out.

MANDATORY Evacuation notice!!!! The town of La Porte and Little Grass Valley Reservoir: All residents, campgrounds, and...

Posted by Plumas County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, September 8, 2020

People along Quincy La Porte Road from Onion Valley to the county line are also being ordered to evacuate.

Evacuees should head south down Quincy La Porte Road towards Yuba County, the sheriff's office says.

The evacuations are related to the North Complex wildfire burning in the Plumas National Forest. That fire is 51 percent contained but has burned 40,843 acres, according to the US Forest Service.

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