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California wildfires: Paradise destruction is as complete as Mosul or Raqqa

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Suddenly the sky turns yellow – you don’t expect it.

The bright Californian sunshine dims and huge clouds of smoke envelope the landscape, burnt black by wildfires that have brought death and destruction on an unprecedented scale.

From miles out, passing through this scarred landscape, you know that what happened in the northern town of Paradise was bad.

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Entire valleys of huge trees have been reduced to a smouldering, smoking, choking, chaotic mess.

The road winding its way through the canyon was the escape route for thousands. People drove through it as flames shot hundreds of feet into the air around them.

Not all made it out.

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Abandoned burnt out cars have been pushed to the side of the road by the emergency services.

They line the road into Paradise. They are the first tangible indicator of just how terrible the escape from this doomed town must have been.

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I have seen catastrophic destruction many times, but I didn’t expect this in the US.

What happened in Paradise is quite incredible. It is not vaguely reminiscent of a war zone – it is exactly the same.

The destruction is as complete as it is in the Iraqi city of Mosul or the Syrian city of Raqqa.

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Shopping centres, big buildings, have been utterly destroyed. They are barely standing. The heat and intensity of the fires is impossible to quantify.

Nothing is left and it is the same everywhere you look.

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We drove through the housing districts of the town, speechless. What looks like a charred forest was actually an estate.

The buildings have all gone. Reduced to ash. All that remains are brick fireplaces.

Everything else has gone.

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The speed of the fire, swept on by 50mph winds, took everyone by surprise and it was lethal.

People certainly died in the chaotic last-minute evacuation, but it is clear that some didn’t even get that far. Bodies have been found in homes, police tape around the remains of houses warn people not to cross.

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Anyone who stayed here didn’t stand a chance.

The numbers of people missing has grown as have the numbers of confirmed dead. That number looks certain to rise.

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Nobody in this community, used to the threat of wild fires, ever thought this could happen.

The emergency services and utility workers are the only people in the town. All the residents have gone.

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Walking through the remains, past burning trees, we stumbled across a pair of deer – a male and a female.

They are burnt and tired and disorientated. They didn’t escape and how they survived I do not know. When even animals can’t outrun a fire it is no surprise humans couldn’t either.

In truth no more real damage can be done to this town and when it will rebuilt is simply not known.

But the fires in north and south California are not over yet. Nobody wants to see this again, but it can’t be guaranteed.

(c) Sky News 2018: California wildfires: Paradise destruction is as complete as Mosul or Raqqa