THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Even in a state hardened to the ravages of wildfires, the infernos that raged at both ends of California on Friday were overpowering.
The fire-prone state was battling three major fires, one in the northern Sierra and two west of Los Angeles.
In the northern town of Paradise, the ruins of houses and businesses smoldered throughout the day, while in Southern California, tens of thousands of residents fled their homes and jammed onto highways.
Exotic lemurs and parrots were packed up and carried away to safety as fires ringed the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park.
Officials estimated that the blaze in the north, called the Camp Fire, had destroyed a staggering 6,700 structures — most of them residential. Such vast devastation would make it the most destructive fire in modern state history.
“It’s phenomenal how fast the fire spread,” said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said of the fire in Paradise. As firefighters struggled to contain the flames, McLean said he feared the death toll would rise higher. Abandoned cars on a central street were evidence that many had fled the ferociously fast fire on foot. At least 35 people were reported missing, officials said.
It was too early to know how many made it out alive.
In Thousand Oaks, there was grief compounded by grief. Just as residents were coming to terms with a shooting at a country music bar, the wind-driven fires swept thousands of residents from their homes. Mayor Andrew P. Fox said late Friday afternoon that nearly 75 percent of the city had been evacuated.
In Paradise, emergency crews looked for the missing, said Megan McMann, a coordinator with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office. “There are a lot of areas where the fire is active that we can’t access,” McMann said.
The bodies of several people were found “in vehicles that were overcome” by the flames, Sheriff Kory L. Honea of Butte County said, adding that they had been so badly burned, they could not immediately be identified. A total of nine people were killed in the county.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.