Infernal wildfire visible from space sends California residents fleeing (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

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The Camp Fire began early Thursday in Paradise, about 90 miles north of Sacramento, burning 20,000 acres and threatening 15,000 structures as it moved west toward Chico Thursday night, according to Cal Fire officials.

Over 30,000 residents of Paradise, Butte Creek, and Magalia were ordered to evacuate, as were local hospitals, schools, and a retirement home. The whole hill's on fire.

"Luckily, the fire broke out early enough that there were only a few students there and we had a plan". State fire authorities said they could not confirm the reports.

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.

"This is the type of situation where, if a fire starts, it can spread rapidly", May said.

Four of the hospital's employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said.

The chamber of commerce in nearby Chico said The Neighborhood Church was being set up as an evacuation center. The smoke reported by residents in Berkeley, however, comes from a fire about 150 miles north in Butte County. Residents awoke to the stench of smoke and the morning horizon drenched in an ashen-orange pallor that was hard to see or drive through, hindering evacuations. It's the second time Hall has fled a California fire, she said. It's very surreal. Things always work out, but the unknown is a little scary. En route to her sister's house in Chico, she told CNN she didn't have high hopes that her home survived.

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The wildfire has been moving southwest through Paradise, a town of about 26,000, said Lynne Tolmachoff, chief of public education for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, aka Cal Fire.

Everyone in Paradise, a community of 27,000 people about 290 kilometres northeast of San Francisco, was ordered to get out.

The Camp Fire has burned more than 5,000 acres and is still very active as it is wind driven.

Video footage taken by ABC Redding affiliate KRCR showed the hospital surrounded by thick smoke as the fire illuminated the darkened sky in the background.

Gusty winds and low humidity were among the factors that led to the warning.

Cal Fire said Wednesday that a Red Flag Warning was issued for most of Northern California's interior as well as parts of Southern California through Friday morning.

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