Late warnings from public officials and the reluctance of residents who had survived previous fires to leave home were among the factors that contributed to the delayed and chaotic evacuation in what has become most fatal wildfire in California history, survivors said.
Some of those who escaped from the massive Camp Fire last week questioned why Butte County leaders did not do more to warn residents of Paradise and neighboring mountain communities as a fire whipped with fearsome speed through the mountainous region north of Sacramento.
Most of the attention following the wildfire has focused on the search for dozens of people still missing and the possibility that power equipment belonging to the electric utility PG &E may have sparked the fire. But a few residents have begun to ask why notice did not get out to more people before the fire, which has killed 48 and destroyed an estimated 7,600 single-family homes, both records for California.
A resident of Magalia, about 8 miles west of the fire’s starting point, confronted Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea and other officials Monday about why he and his neighbors could not find any information about the dangerous blaze, a full three hours after fire crews first responded to the ignition point, near Highway 70 in Plumas National Forest.
“We use the emergency broadcast system for a tornado warning. But this is a deadly fire,” said the man, who was not identified by county officials whom he addressed at the meeting in Oroville. “I don’t remember any alert coming over my radio…. People in the community are freaking out, you need to get some information up here.”