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Wildfire evacuation orders in California extended to 15,000 people

There are 17 fires burning across the state, where fire crews are stretched to the limit.

The number of people ordered to flee from two northern California wildfires has swelled to 15,000 as the flames roll toward several small lake towns.

The twin fires in Mendocino and Lake counties flared up late on Sunday, forcing new evacuations from the 4,700-resident town of Lakeport and other communities near Clear Lake, about 120 miles north of San Francisco.

The blazes have destroyed six homes and threaten 10,000 others. So far, the flames have blackened 87 square miles, with minimal containment.

Those fires are among 17 burning across the state, where fire crews are stretched to the limit.

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Firefighters in Keswick, California (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

At noon on Monday, Lake County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Corey Paulich put the number of people under evacuation orders at 14,000, up from a previous estimate of 10,000. Another 1,000 people have been displaced in neighbouring Mendocino County.

Mr Paulich said residents have been heeding evacuation orders because they have seen the destruction caused by past wildfires, which have destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least four people since 2015.

To the north, near Redding, California, where an unpredictable blaze killed six people, a man whose wife and two great-grandchildren were among the dead said he did not receive any warning to evacuate.

Ed Bledsoe told CBS News he did not know his home was in danger when he left his wife Melody and the children, aged four and five, to run an errand on Thursday.

“If I’d have any kind of warning, I’d have never, ever left my family in that house,” he said.

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A firefighter walks along a containment line in Redding (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Mr Bledsoe said he received a phone call from his wife 15 minutes after he left saying he needed to get home because the fire was approaching. He said one of the children told him the blaze was at the back door. When he tried to return, the road was blocked and flames prevented him from returning on foot.

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told the network there is an investigation into whether the Bledsoe home received a warning call or a knock on the door. He said there is evidence that door-to-door notifications were made in the area.

Crews handling the blaze near Redding struck a hopeful tone for the first time in days as the massive fire slowed after days of rapid expansion. As of Monday, the Redding fire had destroyed 723 homes.

“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.

Authorities are also investigating at least 18 missing persons reports, though many of them may be people who have not checked in with friends or family, police said.

The Carr Fire that threatened Redding — a city of about 92,000 people — was ignited by a vehicle a week ago 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 a round-the-clock work schedule despite learning that his home was one of those destroyed. He 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.

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