PARADISE — A fierce wildfire in Northern California incinerated most of a town of about 30,000 people with flames that moved so fast there was nothing firefighters could do, authorities said Friday. Nine people died in what quickly grew into the state’s most destructive fire in at least a century.

Only a day after it began, the blaze near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 140 square miles, had destroyed more than 6,700 structures — almost all of them homes — and was burning completely out of control.

“There was really no firefight involved,” Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said, explaining that crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people get out alive. “These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday.”

With fires also burning in Southern California, state officials put the total number of people forced from their homes at about 250,000. Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

When Paradise was evacuated, the order set off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got stuck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot. People reported seeing much of the community go up in flames, including homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement center.

Rural areas fared little better. Many homes have propane tanks that were exploding amid the flames. “They were going off like bombs,” said Karen Auday, who escaped to a nearby town.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,” McLean said.

While the cause of the fire wasn’t known, Pacific Gas & Electric Company told state regulators it experienced an outage on an electrical transmission line near Paradise about 15 minutes before the blaze broke out. The company said it later noticed damage to a transmission tower near the town. The utility’s filing was first reported by KQED News.

The massive blaze spread north Friday, prompting officials to order the evacuation of Stirling City and Inskip, two communities north of Paradise along the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The wind-driven flames also spread to the west and reached Chico, a city of 90,000 people. Firefighters were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Cpt. Bill Murphy said.

There were no signs of life Friday on the road to Paradise except for the occasional bird chirp. A thick, yellow haze from the fire hung in the air and gave the appearance of twilight in the middle of the day.

Evacuees from Paradise sat in stunned silence Friday outside a Chico church where they took refuge the night before. They all had harrowing tales of a slow-motion escape from a fire so close they could feel the heat inside their vehicles as they sat stuck in a terrifying traffic jam.

“It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us,” police Officer Mark Bass said.

Officials said all the victims were found in Paradise, including four who died inside their vehicles.

Authorities are recovering bodies “with as much dignity as we can afford them,” Sheriff Kory Honea said.

About 20 deputies who were helping to find and rescue people lost their own homes, he said.

“There are times when you have such rapid-moving fires ... no amount of planning is going to result in a perfect scenario, and that’s what we had to deal with here,” Honea told the Action News Network.

In Southern California, a community reeling from the tragedy of a mass shooting was under a siege of a different sort Friday as raging wildfires on both sides of the city forced widespread evacuations and shut down part of the main freeway to town.

The Woolsy Fire has scorched a historic movie site and forced numerous celebrities to join the thousands fleeing flames that have claimed homes and prompted the total evacuation of the celebrity enclave Malibu.

Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West, Scott Baio, Rainn Wilson and Guillermo del Toro are among numerous celebrities forced to evacuate their homes, in some cases hurriedly trying to arrange transport for their horses. Some, like del Toro and Caitlyn Jenner, did not know the fate of their homes, but the wind-driven wildfire has destroyed the home of “Dr. Strange” director Scott Derrickson and the historic Paramount Ranch, where shows like HBO’s “Westworld” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” were filmed. The ranch served as a location for productions ranging from 1938’s “The Adventures of Marco Polo” to TV shows “The Mentalist” and “Weeds.” The set in the mountains west of Los Angeles dates to 1927 when Paramount Pictures leased the ranch and began making films there.

The blaze started Thursday night and by Friday had pushed toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean, prompting evacuations in Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and other nearby areas.

Alyssa Milano said her home was “in jeopardy” amid her attempts to safely evacuate her five horses. The actress ultimately got the help she needed and tweeted that her horses were safe. “My children are safe. ... Everything with a heartbeat is safe.”

The celebrity website TMZ reported that Jenner’s home was burned, but the Olympic gold medalist said in an Instagram video that she didn’t know “whether the house made it or not.” She confirmed she was safe.

Back in Paradise, scores of homes and businesses had been leveled and reduced to piles of twisted metal. According to the California Teachers Association, at least five of the nine schools in Paradise were destroyed, including Paradise Elementary School.

“The magnitude of the destruction in Paradise and a year ago in Santa Rosa is such that it will take many years to recover,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican lawmaker who represents Paradise and toured the destruction Friday. “The sadness is that beyond all that, a lot of people who lost their homes will not be able to afford to return once the improvements are completed because the cost of new housing just keeps getting higher and higher.”

Paradise Vice Mayor Greg Bolin said that early reports from fire officials suggested that 80 percent to 90 percent of the town had burned. Bolin, who lost his home, said: “The town is gone.”