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Hope Grows As Deadly Carr Fire Slows Down

Bert Johnson / Capital Public Radio

Only rubble remained of some buildings on July 28, 2018, after the Carr Fire passed through in a Redding neighborhood.

Bert Johnson / Capital Public Radio

Head here for the latest information on the Carr Fire, as well as for a full list of evacuation information.

UPDATE Sunday, July 29, 9:09 p.m.

(AP) — The deadly Shasta County wildfire that has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes slowed down Sunday after days of explosive growth, giving officials hope even as they announced the discovery of a sixth fatality.

As of Sunday evening the fire had burned 95,368 acres and was 17 percent contained. New evacuations were put in place for parts of Tinity County at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile officials said a second firefighter died fighting a huge blaze to the south near Yosemite National Park. Brian Hughes, 33, was struck by a tree and killed while working as part of a crew removing brush and other fuel near the so-called Ferguson fire's front lines, national parks officials said.

In Redding, officials stuck a hopeful tone for the first time in days.

"We're feeling a lot more optimistic today as we're starting to gain some ground rather than being in a defensive mode on this fire all the time," said Bret Gouvea, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's incident commander on the blaze around Redding, a city about 230 miles north of San Francisco.

Gouvea spoke at a news conference with fire and law enforcement officials. Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said authorities found a sixth victim of the blaze at a home that was consumed by flames, though he declined to say where. The victim's identity was not released.

The sheriff's department is also investigating seven missing persons reports, Bosenko said. Redding police have an additional 11 reports of missing people, though many of them may simply not have checked in with friends or family, said Redding police Sgt. Todd Cogle.

The so-called Carr Fire that affected Redding — a city of about 92,000 people — was ignited by a vehicle problem on Monday about 10 miles west of the city. On Thursday, it swept through the historic Gold Rush town of Shasta and nearby Keswick fueled by gusty winds and dry vegetation. It then jumped the Sacramento River and took out subdivisions on the western edge of Redding.

The latest tally showed at least 657 structures destroyed and another 145 damaged. A count by The Associated Press found at least 300 of those structures were homes.

After days of fortifying the areas around Redding, fire crews were increasingly confident that the city would escape further damage. The fire had not grown inside the city limits since Saturday, Gouvea said.

Some of the 38,000 people forced to evacuate said they were frustrated because they didn't know whether their homes were standing or were destroyed. Authorities had not reopened any evacuated neighborhoods where fires raged due to safety and ongoing investigations and urged people to be patient, saying they would soon let residents back.

Fed up, on Sunday morning Tim Bollman hiked 4 miles on trails up steep terrain to check on the Redding home he built for his wife and two sons 13 years ago. He found rubble.

"There's not even anything to pick up," he said. "It's completely gone."

He took hundreds of photos, recorded video and texted his wife.

"It's the craziest frickin' thing you have ever seen," he said, his eyes filled with tears. But then he composed himself.

"It is what it is," he sighed, and then hiked off.

Keswick, a mountain town of about 450 people, was reduced to an ashy moonscape of blackened trees and smoldering rubble. The San Bernardino County Fire Department was called in to tamp down smoking piles of debris that were scattered around the town amid downed electricity lines.

"What we're seeing here is an incomplete burn situation," Capt. Doug Miles said as his crew used picks, shovels and rakes to open up piles that just days ago were family homes. The flames laid waste to about 25 blocks, and the "mop up" work was likely to take days. He said his crew would be looking for anything salvageable, but there was little left standing.

The fatalities included two firefighters and a woman and her two great-grandchildren.

"My babies are dead," Sherry Bledsoe said through tears after she and family members met Saturday with sheriff's deputies.

Her two children, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts, were stranded with their great-grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, 70, when flames swept through the family's rural property Thursday on the outskirts of Redding.

The sixth victim, who was not identified, did not evacuate despite receiving an evacuation warning, Bosenko said.

It is the largest fire burning in California, threatening more than 5,000 structures. The flames were just 5 percent contained, though Gouvea said he expected that number to climb.

"We're here till the end, and we will get to an end, and we will bring some peace to this chaos," he said.

The firefighters killed in the blaze included Don Ray Smith, 81, of Pollock Pines, a bulldozer operator who was helping clear vegetation in the path of the wildfire. Redding Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke was also killed, but details of his death were not released.

The fire around Redding was among 17 significant blazes in the state on Sunday that had forced roughly 50,000 people from their homes, said Lynne Tolmachoff, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.

About 12,000 firefighters were battling the fires, she said.

"We are well ahead of the fire activity we saw last year," she said. "This is just July, so we're not even into the worst part of fire season."

About 100 miles southwest of Redding, one of two blazes that started in Mendocino County forced the evacuation of Lakeport, a city of about 5,000 people, after destroying four homes. More than 4,500 buildings were under threat, officials said. The two fires had blackened 39 square miles and were each 5 percent contained.

Authorities also issued evacuation orders in Napa County, famous for its wine, when a fire destroyed eight structures. The blaze had blackened 150 acres, but was 50 percent contained on Sunday.

Hughes, the firefighter killed near Yosemite, was originally from Hawaii. He had been with California's Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots for four years and reached the rank of captain. Earlier this month, firefighter Braden Varney was killed when the bulldozer he was operating overturned while he was fighting the flames near the national park. At least seven other firefighters have been injured since that blaze broke out July 13.

Some evacuations were lifted but officials said Yosemite Valley, the heart of tourism in the park, will remain closed until August 3.

A big fire continued to burn in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles near Palm Springs, but officials lifted evacuation orders for several communities after reporting significant progress by firefighters. The Yosemite and Southern California blazes had burned nearly 100 square miles.

___

Thanawala reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Martha Mendoza in Redding and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

UPDATE Saturday, July 28, 10:33 p.m.

The death count from the Carr Fire rose to five Saturday after two young children and their great-grandmother who had been unaccounted for were confirmed dead.

Saturday the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office confirmed what Ed Bledsoe already knew.

His wife Melody and the great grandchildren they had raised, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts, died in the fire Thursday night.

“I was talking to junior when the fire tried to come in the back door," Bledsoe said. "He’s 5. And he just kept hollering for me to get there. Hurry. I got up on the hill. I got to Quartz Hill up there, but they wouldn’t let me down through the fire to the house to get ‘em.”

The guilt he’s carrying is obvious.

“It’s my fault,” he said, “I should have gone through hell with a bucket of water for ‘em.”

As for why he wasn’t home, he says he had run an errand to a friend’s house with his wife’s blessing when the fire was still miles away and on the other side of the Sacramento River from his home.

The fire gobbled up that ground in a matter of minutes.

Carla Bledsoe, facing camera, hugs her sister Sherry outside of the sheriff's office after hearing news that Sherry's children, James and Emily, and grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, were killed in a wildfire Saturday, July 28, 2018, in Redding, Calif.Carla Bledsoe, facing camera, hugs her sister Sherry outside of the sheriff's office after hearing news that Sherry's children, James and Emily, and grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, were killed in a wildfire Saturday, July 28, 2018, in Redding, Calif. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

 

Some people saw “firenados” spin hundreds of feet in the air and touch down, destroying some homes while leaving others on the same street untouched. A bulldozer operator and Redding City firefighter also died Thursday.

More than a dozen people were reported missing after the furious wind-driven blaze took residents by surprise and leveled several neighborhoods.

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said he expects to find several of those people alive and just out of touch with loved ones. Officers have gone to homes of several people reported missing and found cars gone — a strong indication they fled.

As of Saturday evening fire had grown slightly to 83,800 acres, but remained 5 percent contained. Four shelters have been established for more than 600 people.

Additional evacuation orders were issued Saturday night:

In the Redding area, authorities were investigating reports of looting in evacuated areas

The Associated Press contributed to this report 

UPDATE Saturday July 28, 1:42 p.m.

A shelter for people displaced by the fire has reached full capacity as fire authorities order more evacuations.

Peter Griggs, a spokesman for Shasta College in Redding, says the evacuation center at the school reached maximum capacity Saturday and is housing 500 people.

The college's gymnasium is filled with cots and American Red Cross volunteers are providing food, water and medical and mental health services.

More mandatory evacuations were ordered Saturday afternoon for communities south of Redding and three other shelters are still taking evacuees.

The fire has displaced 37,000 people.

UPDATE Saturday July 28, 12:57 p.m.

Additional mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for the Carr Fire burning near Redding, CA.

UPDATE Saturday July 28, 11:56 a.m.

(AP) - President Donald Trump has issued an emergency declaration for California allowing counties affected by wildfires to receive federal assistance.

A White House statement issued Saturday says the declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide necessary equipment and resources.

The declaration highlights the massive Carr fire that nearly doubled overnight.

California fire officials say more than 10,000 firefighters are working to stop the progress of 14 large wildfires across the state.

They say the blazes have killed three firefighters and destroyed more than 500 structures.

UPDATE Saturday July 28, 8:56 a.m.

The Carr Fire near Redding expanded overnight Friday into Saturday, prompting new mandatory evacuations. 

Cal Fire officials reported the fire grew to 80,906 acres, up from 48,312 Friday evening. The fire remains 5 percent contained.

Chris Anthony, deputy chief with Cal Fire, says winds are fueling the fire but also pushing it away from Redding and other populated areas. Thousands of people remain under evacuation orders, including the small towns of Ono and Igo.

Two people have already been killed by the blaze, which has destroyed 500 structures, with nearly 5,000 more homes being threatened.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 10:10 p.m.

Officials in Redding are urging residents to be prepared to evacuate — and to leave immediately if told to get out.

“Leave before you’re asked to leave. We need to take heed. Evacuate. Evacuate. Evacuate,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott urged.

“This fire is a long way from being done,” he added.

Redding Police Chief Roger Moore said the Carr Fire was unlike anything the city had experienced. “This fire is scary to us. It’s something we haven’t seen before in the city. It’s changing directions radically,” he said.

Cal Fire now estimates 500 structures have been destroyed, with another 75 damaged. The agency also announced new mandatory evacuations Friday evening. The fire is now 48,312 acres with 5 pecent containment.

Redding has established a missing persons hotline after the blaze rapidly converged on the city’s west side last night: (530) 225-4277.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 5 p.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown has requested federal assistance for the deadly and destructive Carr Fire in Shasta County.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 4 p.m.

A media briefing on the Carr Fire is being held at Cal Fire’s Redding air attack base with leaders from the California Highway Patrol, the California Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire, the California National Guard and local agencies. Watch live here.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 3:40 p.m.

(AP) — An Associated Press reporter has counted at least 125 homes destroyed by the deadly Carr Fire in Shasta County.

The official count so far is 65 structures destroyed by the blaze.

An Associated Press reporter on Friday counted 66 burned homes in the Lake Redding Estates neighborhood and another 60 in nearby Lake Keswick Estates.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 2:59 p.m.

A Red Flag Warning is in effect in the vicinity of the Carr Fire through Monday. 

NOAA said the spread of the fire is not being driven by the wind, but by the fire itself.

Very hot and dry conditions will continue through the weekend with locally gusty winds late Friday afternoon and overnight.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 1:29 p.m.

The Redding Police Department has identified the firefighter who died battling the Carr Fire as Jeremy Stoke.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 11:21 am

Approximately 38,000 people have been evacuated as of Friday morning due to the Carr Fire burning in Redding and parts of Shasta County.

Cal Fire Deputy Director of Communications Mike Mohler said that the fire is an unprecedented “career fire” for the firefighters working to control the blaze and protect civilians.

072718Carr Fire Evacuating With Cats -Nixon -pWade and Keela Brilz rescue their cats from their burned-out home in Redding. Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

 

He said fire conditions Thursday night were “undefendable,” including a fire tornado that tore through the blaze, uprooting trees, blowing roofs off and overturning vehicles.

The fire is currently burning on the west side of Redding. Lighter winds Friday morning helped the situation somewhat, but Mohler said that weather conditions later today are expected to be similar to Thursday. He urged residents in the area to obey evacuation orders and evacuate their homes as soon as possible.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 8:19 am

(AP) - Officials say a firefighter has been killed by a massive Northern California wildfire, raising the death toll to 2.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday that a firefighter with the fire department in the city of Redding was killed fighting the blaze in Shasta County.

The department says it is investigating the death. No other details were provided.

The blaze on Thursday killed a bulldozer operator as he worked to try to contain the blaze.

The fire has destroyed 65 residences so far and has damaged 55 more, according to Cal Fire's Mike Mohler.

Nearly 5,000 structures are threatened. The fire has burned at least 44,450 acres and is 3 percent contained.

Capital Public Radio staff contributed to this report.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 7:26 am

Firefighters in Redding say the explosive Carr Fire is unlike anything they've experienced.

"Yesterday when it blew into Redding, West Redding, it was something that a lot of the old timers have never seen before as far as fire behavior,” said Cal Fire spokesperson Scott McLean.

He describes the fire as “erratic” and having extreme winds that destroyed anything in its path.

"Huge trees knocked over, just uprooted, smaller trees uprooted, just laying in the roadway. And then the further I got into the subdivision, I came across several dozen homes that were destroyed."

The fire has entered Redding's city limits, destroying homes and prompting emergency evacuations. One firefighter has died, and others are injured.

The fire grew in size to 44,450 acres overnight, according to Cal Fire, and containment dipped to 3 percent.

UPDATE Friday, July 27, 7:04 am

Capital Public Radio reporter Bob Moffitt is in Butte County just outside Redding. He says emergency evacuation orders started around 9 p.m. last night in parts of Redding as the fire entered the city limits.

"Even the old timers have never seen anything quite like this,” Moffitt says a Cal Fire chief told him.

The fire is whipping-up forceful wind that is uplifting trees and moving cars. Some individuals are using the term "fire tornado" to describe it.

Cal Fire does not have an estimate for the number of homes destroyed; "dozens" is the word Cal Fire is using.

The fire grew to 44,450 acres overnight, according to Cal Fire.

Containment dropped to 3 percent as of midnight, and nearly 500 structures are threatened. Cal Fire has announced additional evacuations in the Shasta Dam area and parts of Redding.

UPDATE Friday, July 26, 10:10 pm 

Cal Fire says a private bulldozer operator has been killed after being overrun by the Carr Fire which is burning within the Redding city limits.

The man was discovered late Thursday afternoon. No details about the bulldozer operator's death are being released at this time.

Cal Fire has posted evacuation orders for a large section of West Redding due to the Carr Fire. People living between Keswick Dam Road north of the Sacramento River down to Prospect Drive are urged to evacuate immediately.

The Carr Fire was burning about 1,000 acres per hour through the heat of the day Thursday and was headed for West Redding. Cal Fire reported 15 structures had been destroyed and five had been damaged as of 9 pm Thursday.

Many parts of West Redding are marked by wildland areas full of oaks and brush that back up to residential areas. Nearly 500 structures are threatened.

When asked if it were possible the fire could overrun the city, Cal Fire Captain Scott McLean said, "It depends on the fire."

McLean described some of the unpredictable fire behavior from the day.

"There are firenados (the likes of which) I havent seen in six years blow out the windows of a Cal Fire vehicle," McLean said and added that the weather even in the evening hours doesn't seem to be helping, "Right now we're looking at high 80's in temperature and it's not making a dent. Earlier it was heading northeast and southeast and then just changed course and headed straight east into Redding."

Mandatory evacuation orders already were in place for the areas surrounding Whiskeytown Lake.  

Evacuation centers have been established at Shasta College for people who live east of Trinity Mountain Road. People living west of Trinity Mountain Road are urged to use the Weaverville Elementary School in Weaverville.

The Redding Rodeo Grounds on Auditorium Drive is taking large animals. Haven Humane on East Drive is taking small animals.

Original Post: Thursday, July 26, 5 p.m. 

The blaze started approximately three days ago, some 15 miles west of Redding, but is now just six miles away.

Cal Fire Captain Scott McLean says it burned 8,000 acres in the last eight hours. "The fire has extreme fire behavior,” he said.

McLean added that there’s a lot of fuel for the blaze. “It is so hot. We're talking about the hottest day of the year, if not the hottest day of the year," he said, adding that the thermometer at Cal Fire’s base camp reached 111 degrees.

The fire is still 10 percent contained even with the increase in acreage burned, according to McLean, who added that the blaze is “going to make its own weather,” including erratic winds.

Some neighborhoods near Whiskeytown Lake are under mandatory evacuation. The California Highway Patrol tweeted that the fire had reached the area of Old Shasta.

Communities in West Redding are now under evacuation advisory. 

An “inversion layer” is keeping air tankers from flying over the fire, but helicopters have been able to drop water.

Large animals and livestock evacuations are being accepted at the Redding Rodeo grounds at 715 Auditorium Drive.

Small animals may be taken to Haven Humane at 9417 East Side Road.

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