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.
Scott McLean, a spokesman for Cal Fire, said the fire in Northern California's Butte County has "destroyed the town".
As people fled in cars, some abandoned their vehicles, running from encroaching flames as they held babies in their arms and pets, said Gina Oviedo, who described a devastating scene as she evacuated the town of Paradise.
The fire started at about 6:30am Thursday morning and reached 5,000 acres in three hours, fueled by high winds.
She says the air is black with smoke and ash.
At the hospital with the stranded patients, some buildings caught fire and were damaged, but the main facility, Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, was not, spokesperson Jill Kinney said.
"We had to drive through flames to make it out safely", she said.
The massive plume from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., wafts over the Sacramento Valley as seen from Chico, Calif., on Thursday.
"This fire is very risky, please evacuate if asked to do so!" the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) tweeted.More news: Out of many, several firsts elected across US in midterms
"The whole hill's on fire", she said while crying. "We're still being very careful".
Shari Bernacett said her husband tried to get people to leave the Paradise mobile home park they manage and had minutes to evacuate. "That's when I chose to get out".
"Right now, Mother Nature is in charge", Bennett said.
A red flag warning is in effect in the area, meaning Thursday will bring 20-to-40-mph winds and low humidity that threaten to spread the wildfire.
The California Highway Patrol closed a nearby highway and urged motorists to avoid the area.
In Chico, west of the fire, resident Tina Greer said the care home where her disabled son lives with five other patients was evacuating.
The blaze dubbed the Camp Fire, swept through the town of Paradise, driven by high winds and dry conditions, with social media reports that a hospital, high school and K-Mart store were on fire.