Thousands more flee deadly California wildfires
Firefighters and civilians have been killed in the wildfires raging across the US state.
Thousands more people have fled their homes after wildfires surged near a small lake town in northern California as fire crews across the state fight flames that have claimed the lives of firefighters and civilians.
Residents of the waterfront town Lakeport fled after a major flare-up of two fires that combined across Mendocino and Lake counties destroyed at least four homes.
Lakeport, home to about 5,000 people, is around 120 miles north of San Francisco.
More than 4,500 buildings were under threat, officials said.
The two fires had blackened 47 square miles, with minimal containment.
About 100 miles north east, officials near Redding struck a hopeful tone for the first time in days as a massive fire slowed following days of explosive growth.
“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.
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 sheriff’s department is also investigating seven missing persons reports, Mr 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 sergeant Todd Cogle.
The so-called Carr Fire that affected Redding – a city of around 92,000 people about 230 miles north of San Francisco – 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, fuelled by gusty winds and dry vegetation.
It then jumped the Sacramento River and took out subdivisions on the western edge of Redding.
Redding police chief Roger Moore kept up an around-the-clock work schedule despite learning that his home was one of those destroyed.
He was finally able to shave on Saturday when his wife brought him a razor, he said.
Mr Moore was helping evacuate people from his River Ridge neighbourhood in western Redding when the flames became unbearable.
“I saw everything around it ignite, and I go, ‘It’s gone,'” Mr Moore said.
At least one person was arrested on suspicion of stealing from evacuated homes and authorities were keeping watch for other potential looters, said deputy Travis Ridenour, whose home also burned.
“Lost our house like so many others,” Mr Ridenour wrote on Facebook.
“Still out watching over the ones still standing. No looting on my watch.”
The latest tally showed at least 657 homes destroyed and another 145 damaged, with the fire having consumed 149 square miles.
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, Mr Gouvea said.
Some of the 38,000 people forced to evacuate said they were frustrated because they did not know whether their homes were standing or were destroyed.
Authorities had not reopened any evacuated neighbourhoods where fires raged due to safety and ongoing investigations and urged people to be patient, saying they would soon let residents back.
Keswick, a mountain town of about 450 people, was reduced to an ashy moonscape of blackened trees and smouldering rubble.
The terrain surrounding nearby Whiskeytown Lake – usually filled in July with tourists swimming in the clear water – was burned, burning or seemingly about to burn on Sunday.
A heavy haze hung low over the water, where some of the docked boats had melted.
Firefighters and utility repair crews drove up and down the once-scenic highway, while California Department of Transportation water trucks sprayed roadsides in the hope of preventing potential wildfires from burning across the road, which can cost several million dollars to repair.
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 with sheriff’s deputies.
Her two children, five-year-old James Roberts and four-year-old Emily Roberts, were stranded with their great-grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, 70, when flames swept through the family’s rural property on Thursday on the outskirts of Redding.
The sixth victim, who was not identified, did not evacuate despite receiving an evacuation warning, Mr Bosenko said.
It is the largest fire burning in California, threatening more than 5,000 structures.
The flames were just 5% contained, though Mr Gouvea said he expected that number to climb.
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.
With heavy hearts we announce the passing of Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke. Jeremy died while battling the Carr Fire. We ask for your thoughts and prayers for his family and the RFD as we process this tragic loss. More information will be released as it becomes available. pic.twitter.com/3adHIkDepV— Redding Firefighters (@reddingff_1934) July 27, 2018
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.
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.
We are saddened beyond words to report the death of Captain Brian Hughes of the Arrowhead Hotshots. Hughes' crew was on the #FergusonFire on @Sierra_NF when he was struck and killed by a tree. We grieve his loss.— Sequoia & Kings Cyn (@SequoiaKingsNPS) July 30, 2018
Photo courtesy of Brad Torchia pic.twitter.com/Lwy2MyH1jN
Originally from Hawaii, Mr Hughes 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 on 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.