North Complex Fire raging near Oroville; 3 dead, 12 missing, 2,000 structures damaged or destroyed

A Butte County fire task force held a press conference Wednesday night on Facebook Live to update the community on the rapidly evolving North Complex Fire near Oroville.  

“This is the part of my presentation that I’ve been dreading,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said with a somber tone. “It brings back memories of when I stood before you back in 2018 to tell you about those who lost their lives during the Camp Fire.”

News items from the press conference included:

  • 3 fatalities were confirmed. Two victims were found together and one was found at another location  
  • Of the 4,200 structures within the North Complex fire’s perimeter, 2,000 have been damaged or destroyed. At least 23,000 structures are still under threat. Cal Fire also confirmed that at least 3,000 structures in Quincy are threatened
  • The Butte County Public Health Department’s office was evacuated Wednesday, disrupting COVID-19 case updates and testing
  • Butte County has limited resources but received assistance from 23 agencies and more than 300 personnel
  • Butte County responded to 85 welfare calls; 73 were found safe, while 12 remain missing
  • Cal Fire confirmed that 210,000 acres have been burned or damaged

Butte County citizens woke up Wednesday morning to ash falling from the sky, painted with an orange tint. People are being evacuated and forced to find a spot to stay safe. This is California now. This is the new normal.

“Time and time again we have seen how dangerous wildfires can be,” Honea said. “So I ask you please, please, please be prepared, maintain situational awareness and heed the warnings.”

Burning an upward of 1,000 acres every 30 minutes, the North Complex Fire has expanded to 254,000 acres with about 24% containment.

“Seven days ago we were dealing with two fires and we were getting around most of it with a 52% containment,” said Jake Cagle, Team 4 operation section chief for the U.S. Forest Service. “Yesterday, we had a spot come across with about 45-mile-per-hour winds coming out of the northeast. Within 30 minutes, we had a thousand acres and that has continued.” 

More than 230 families throughout the county are seeking shelter in hotels. Evacuations have affected thousands of residents throughout Northern California, with many in need of immediate housing. Some will have to go as far away as Sacramento. 

“Tonight, there are approximately 90 families sheltered in hotels throughout the county and surrounding counties and I have approximately 140 families that are pending, waiting for hotels,” said Shelby Boston, director of the Department of Employment and Social Services and Care and Shelter Chief. Due to COVID-19 concerns, traditional congregate shelters will not be in operation. The temporary evacuation points will be used as shelters while the county and Red Cross work to get survivors placed in short-term hotel rooms.” 

The historic fire has brought back chilling memories of the 2018 Camp Fire, which resulted in 85 fatalities. 

“Sadly, Butte County is no stranger to emergencies,” said Sang Kim, Butte County deputy administrative officer. “Out of the 58 California counties, we are probably the most experienced with emergency operations.” 

Here are additional takeaways regarding the North Complex Fire, which comprises the Bear and Claremont fires burning across Butte, Plumas, Yuba and Lassen counties. 

Where to find shelter

  • Butte County is operating a temporary evacuation point located at the Gridley Fairgrounds
  • The Durham Community Park is open to the public. The area has bathrooms and space for large animals
  • The American Red Cross will assist with sheltering needs.
  • In Yuba County, the Yuba Sutter Fairgrounds located at 442 Franklin Ave. is open to evacuees. Trailers and other vehicles are welcome but evacuees are being asked to remain in the vehicles due to COVID-19 concerns
  • The North Valley Animal Disaster Group is assisting pet owners with evacuation at 530-895-0000
  • Del Oro Animal shelter was accepting animals but is currently at full capacity
  • Camelot Equestrian Park is sheltering larger animals 

Air Quality

According to AirNow, the air quality index is at 160 which is unhealthy for sensitive groups. They recommend people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens choose less strenuous activities (like walking instead of running) so you don’t breathe as hard. 

They also recommend shortening the amount of time you are active outdoors and being active outdoors when air quality is better.

Evacuations in Plumas, Yuba, Lassen and Butte counties (Not a comprehensive list)

Evacuation orders have been issued for the following locations:

  • Cherokee Road at Highway 70
  • South to Thompson Flat Cemetery Road and all areas east to Lake Oroville 
  • The communities of Kelly Ridge and Copley Acres 
  • The area east of Miners Ranch Road at Highway 162 and Oro Bangor Highway 
  • Bangor and part of the Mount Ida area 

Evacuation warnings, which are not mandatory, have been issued for the following locations:

  • Butte County: North side of Highway 70 in the area of Lower Concow
  • Butte County: Town of Paradise, specifically Paradise Zone 14, east of Pentz Road
  • Butte County: Highway 70 at Garden Dr., south to Lower Honcut Road, Lower Honcut Road east to Bangor and everything east to the borders of the current evacuation orders

Honea encouraged people to sign up for Code Red, a community notification service that alerts residents of evacuation orders and warnings. 

Matthew Wreden, Chloe Curtis and Kimberly Morales can be reached at [email protected] or @bymattwreden, @ChloeCurtis__ and @kimberlymnews on Twitter