CHICO, Calif. - Three people have died in the Bear Fire, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea confirmed Wednesday evening.
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.
The fire continues to burn through Plumas and Butte counties after high winds caused it to grow massively overnight, fire officials said Wednesday.
"It brings back memories of when I stood before you back in 2018 to talk about those people who lost their lives during the Camp Fire," Honea said during an evening news conference.
As many as 20,000 residents have been evacuated from Butte County the sheriff said. There have been 85 calls for welfare checks. Fortunately 73 have been located.
The blaze had merged with the Claremont Fire, south of the community of Quincy, and became part of the North Complex Fire, which the U.S. Forest Service has been battling since mid-August. Officials estimate the acreage charred at 254,000, up from 58,000 Tuesday, and that figure is expected to grow with more accurate mapping.
At 38 percent containment, this complex is already among California’s top 10 largest fires ever.
The blaze burned overnight into Wednesday at a rate of one and a half square miles every 30 minutes. For perspective, the town of Capitola is about 1.6 square miles, so every 30 minutes an area that houses over 10,000 residents was burned by fire.
KTVU heard from one man who told his story of survival.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Butte County resident Dennis, who stayed behind and quickly realized he was in trouble. “It was so fast it sounded like a jet plane was 360 degrees around me.”
Still in shock that he made it out alive, he explained how he avoided the fast-moving flames.
“I had to go into a sheet metal shop on this property and everything burnt to the ground except for the shop,” said Dennis.
The Bear Fire started in Plumas National Forest in Plumas County and the overnight weather event spread the fire into Butte County--even making its way into the Camp Fire burn scar.
Several mandatory evacuations are in effect as flames burned homes and other structures. While the weather looks better today, the U.S. Forest Service says extreme fire conditions are still present.
“By no means just because the wind quits does that mean the fire is going to be in a position to stay in its current footprint. We anticipate further growth,” said Jay Kurth, USFS Incident Commander.
The American Red Cross is also assisting with relief efforts.
Fire officials are expected to hold a meeting at 6 p.m. to share more updates on the North Complex Fire.
A Mandatory Evacuation Order is in effect for Bucks Lake from Bucks Lake Rd (Highway 162) at the Plumas/Butte County Line east to Bucks Lake Road at Big Creek Road.
An Evacuation Advisory is in effect for: Meadow Valley: From Bucks Lake Road at Big Creek Road east to Snake Lake Road and Feather River Canyon (HWY 70): From the Plumas/Butte County Line east to Belden, this includes the Community of Belden.
Communities including Oroville, South Oroville, Palermo and Honcut were under an evacuation warning.
For a full list of evacuation orders and warnings, visit the USFS incident page.
Evacuations centers have been set up in the following locations:
- Butte County: Temporary Evacuation Point has been relocated to the Gridley Fairgrounds located at 199 E. Hazel Street in Gridley
- Yuba County: Dobbins Alcouffee Center. 9185 Marysville Rd, Oregon House, Ca. and the Yuba Sutter Fairgrounds at 442 Franklin Avenue, Yuba City, Ca.