OROVILLE, Calif. (KTXL) — A grass fire in Oroville quickly exploded in size Thursday, burning around 30 to 35 acres as red flag winds fueled the flames.
“I saw the fire start over there and I tried to drive around my house,” said Chou Yang.
As Yang got off Highway 70 onto a Grand Avenue in northern Oroville he said he saw flames burning toward his house, so he called home.
“Asked my children and my wife to escape from the house,” he told FOX40.
Yang’s garage burned to the ground and he said he lost some chickens.
But the fire didn’t stop there.
“The fire was actually already laying down across the road toward these houses on the left that you’re looking at,” explained Oroville Fire Battalion Chief Isaac Ruiz.
Ruiz said powerful winds quickly pushed the fire southeast.
“With that type of sustained wind, we could have easily had house-to-house spread,” he said.
Within 12 minutes, he said the flames moved half a mile.
Pretty soon, the fire burned from Grand Avenue down a cliff and was starting to jump the Feather River in several spots into downtown Oroville.
“Ended up in three different spots it jumped the river,” Ruiz said.
Thousands were told to evacuate from the city’s core but Ruiz said his fire crews were quick to stop the fire from spreading on the south bank.
“It was moving pretty fast,” he explained. “It was faster than we could drive and faster than we could do anything about right at first. We’re very lucky that Cal Fire was able to send us some aircraft.”
Back near Yang, several homes still under construction were damaged but for the most part, buildings were saved by firefighters.
Chief Ruiz said an official cause is still under investigation but “dispatch believed it to be a runaway transient camp fire.”
He said the Feather River saved the town and that this fire could have been so much worse.
As for Yang, he said he’s glad his house is still standing and was counting his blessings.
Firefighters told FOX40 they have seen fire spread that fast before but never in an urban environment. They said this fire should serve as a reminder that when those evacuation orders come down, don’t hesitate to go.