2 killed, thousands evacuated in wildfire

A fast-growing wildfire swept through parts of Northern California, killing two people, threatening 5,000 buildings and forcing mass evacuations as it moved into the city limits of Redding, authorities said.

Posted: Jul 29, 2018 11:08 AM
Updated: Jul 29, 2018 11:17 AM

There's a 30,000-foot shadow cast over Northern California.

A tall smoke plume, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento, is the reason for the shadow, with the smoke coming from the Carr Fire in Shasta County.

The fire has led to the evacuation of 38,000 residents within Shasta County and the burn area, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said. The California National Guard says it has 800 soldiers and airmen currently on the ground or en route to the Carr Fire to help.

Officials were driving Friday through the smoldering remains of a neighborhood in the Northern California city of Redding, trying to determine the number of homes lost to the fast-moving wildfire that also has killed two people.

A CNN crew in one neighborhood estimated dozens of homes had been reduced to nothing but piles of ash.

Residents and relatives were allowed back in to see whether there were items that could be salvaged or whether pets left behind could be found.

Chris Corona went to his parents' home to look for their cat, Jinx. The home was gone, but Jinx was there, safely hiding in a bush on a hillside not touched by the flames that killed all the other vegetation.

Corona wept as he thought of things they lost in the house.

"I can't believe it's gone. All those memories, childhood memories," he said. "Stuff that parents save, like stuff you built as a little kid for your mom. I'm just glad my mom got all the valuable stuff that she wanted out."

A neighbor had a similar experience: grabbed personal items in a hurry, forced to leave scared pet behind, returned to find dog alive.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, had authorities in the area assessing the damage.

The Carr Fire ravaged the small communities of Shasta and Keswick before jumping the Sacramento River and burning houses on the outskirts of Redding, a city of 95,000 people 120 miles south of the California-Oregon border, according to Cal Fire.

Alistair Sullivan told CNN affiliate KPIX that he drove home Thursday night to find firefighters in his Redding neighborhood, telling him and neighbors to evacuate. He got some papers and his guitars before he left.

"This came out of nowhere," he told the station outside his house, which had burned down. "You try to grab things that you think are pretty important. ...Then you leave and you think -- 'I should have grabbed that.'"

A resident of French Gulch, west of Redding, said she had two hours to evacuate, but some people had only 30 minutes.

"It's terrifying," Rachel Hines told CNN affiliate KRCR, "You're frightened a little bit because you don't know if you're going to come back to your house and the town is going to be different."

The fire has destroyed at least 500 structures so far, damaged 75 others and is threatening almost 5,000 homes and buildings, Cal Fire spokesman Scott Kenney said.

"This fire is making a significant push into the northwest portion of Redding," Cal Fire incident commander Chief Brett Gouvea told reporters. "This fire is extremely dangerous and is moving with no regard to what's (in) its path."

Two people have died fighting the fire. One was identified as Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke, according to the Redding firefighter's union.

"Jeremy died while battling the Carr Fire," the union posted on Twitter. "We ask for your thoughts and prayers for his family and the RFD as we process this tragic loss."

A private-hire bulldozer operator, who was not identified, died while battling the fire as well.

Three firefighters from Marin County Fire -- engineer Scott Pederson and firefighters Tyler Barnes and Brian Cardoza -- were treated for burns to the ears, hands and face at Mercy Hospital in Redding and have been released from the hospital, the fire department said in a news release.

A fourth firefighter was being evaluated at UC Davis Burn Center, the news release said.

Eight people were treated for respiratory and burn-related injuries at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The blaze doubled in size in only 12 hours, and now covers 48,312 acres, with only 5% containment, Cal Fire said.

'This fire is out of control!'

More than 1,700 firefighters have been trying to control the blaze since it broke out Monday, but hot and windy conditions continue fueling it, officials said.

The fire apparently began with the mechanical failure of a vehicle, fire officials said. Flames have consumed trees, houses and historic buildings in Shasta County for days and temporarily closed traffic along Highway 299.

It also struck the Oak Bottom Marina at Whiskeytown Lake, west of Redding, leaving about 40 boats and part of the dock burned or charred, the Redding Record Searchlight reported.

"The only buildings left standing down there right now are the fire station and a couple of the restrooms," Shasta County Fire Chief Mike Hebrard told the paper. "The concession stands are burned up."

KRCR, a Redding TV station and CNN affiliate, interrupted its newscast and evacuated its facility Thursday night as the fire approached.

"Right now we are being evacuated -- that's why we are kind of closing out right now," said news anchor Allison Woods during a live broadcast. "We are going to leave the station because (it) is now unsafe to be here."

Evacuation orders caught many people in Redding off guard and caused traffic jams as they tried to get out of town, according to McLean, the Cal Fire spokesman.

"When it hit, people were really scrambling," he told CNN affiliate KTXL. "There was not much of a warning."

The fire also has disrupted rail travel. Amtrak said Coast Starlight service, operating daily between Seattle and Los Angeles, has been stopped between Sacramento and Klamath Falls, Oregon, until conditions change.

Governor: 'Imminent catastrophe'

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday for Riverside and Shasta counties in response to fires.

Brown sent a letter to President Donald Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting a presidential emergency declaration for direct federal assistance to further support the communities impacted by the Carr fire in Shasta County.

"Supplemental federal assistance is necessary to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety, and to lessen the effects of this imminent catastrophe," Brown's letter read.

Brown said in his letter that he was requesting "Direct Federal Assistance, including Department of Defense air assets to immediately mitigate the impacts of this fire; shelter supplies and water for 30,000 evacuated residents in Shasta County; U.S. Department of Agriculture's assistance in evacuating large animals; mass care; evacuation assistance for individuals with access and functional needs; and ambulatory transport."

More than 80 wildfires in the US

The Carr Fire is among 89 active large fires burning in 14 states and one of six large wildfires in California, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

Elsewhere in California, the Ferguson Fire has prompted the closure of the most iconic areas of Yosemite National Park, killed one person and injured several firefighters. The park will reopen to all visitors August 3, officials said.

The blaze, which is raging west of the park, has burned 46,675 acres and is 29% contained, Cal Fire said. About 3,800 firefighters are on the scene.

Braden Varney, 36, a heavy fire equipment operator, was killed last weekend while battling the blaze. There have been three fire-related deaths in the state in recent weeks.

Another massive wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest, known as the Cranston Fire, prompted thousands to flee their homes and led to the arrest of a man.

Brandon N. McGlover, 32, of Temecula was detained Wednesday and is facing five counts of arson to wildland, the Riverside County Fire Department and Cal Fire said.

Authorities said they believe McGlover started not only the Cranston Fire but other fires in the region as well.

More than 1,300 firefighters are battling that blaze, which has scorched 12,300 acres and is only 16% contained, fire officials said.

The fire, which is about 5 miles southwest of Palm Springs, has led to the evacuation of the town of Idyllwild and other communities.

The area around Idyllwild was the site of a massive wildfire in July 2013 that burned more than 27,000 acres.

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