Fire threatens N. California town, residents leave

SAN FRANCISCO, June 14 (Reuters) - Thousands of residents fled a Northern California town on Saturday as a fire in the surrounding grasslands threatened to engulf more homes, officials said.

Firefighters ordered the evacuation of southern Paradise, California, because a nearby fire had consumed 35 square miles (90 square km) and destroyed 66 homes since it started on Friday. Another 5,600 houses are at risk, said Scott Upton, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

About 3,000 firefighters are battling the blaze between Chico and Paradise, two cities about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, Upton said.

"Difficult terrain and heavy brush is making it hard for fire crews to get in place," Upton said.

An elderly woman had a heart attack and died while preparing to leave her home, Upton said. Eight firefighters sustained minor injuries.

The fire was 35 percent contained on Saturday afternoon, and authorities said they expected full containment by Monday.

Reporting by Amanda Beck