Earlier this summer, Middletown, Calif., opened its modest high school to people fleeing an unusually ferocious wildfire nearby.
Now, residents of the small mountain town north of San Francisco have been forced to flee a blaze that's gutted homes and shocked firefighters with its strength and speed.
The Valley Fire and another in the Gold Rush country of the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 120 miles to the southeast, are the worst of a dozen burning in the state.
Between them, they have destroyed at least 720 homes and hundreds of other structures and displaced 23,000 people, fire officials said.
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