Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires rage unchecked

38,000 peo­ple evac­u­ated by deadly blaze of­fi­cials say is un­likely to be con­tained be­fore mid-Au­gust

The Province - - NEWS - JONATHAN J. COOPER AND SUD­HIN THANAWALA

RED­DING, Calif. — Fire crews fac­ing sev­eral weather un­cer­tain­ties Sun­day strug­gled to cor­ral a deadly blaze in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia that has left thou­sands of dazed evac­uees reel­ing as they try to take care of them­selves, their fam­i­lies and even pets.

Fire­fight­ers en­dured hot tem­per­a­tures and re­mained wary of the pos­si­bil­ity of gusty winds, said An­thony Romero, a spokesman for the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

“Right now it’s go­ing ev­ery­where. We still have a lot of open line,” he said.

He added, “Any event could bring this back up again.”

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice on Sun­day fore­cast hot and dry con­di­tions in the area, with wind gusts ex­pected late in the af­ter­noon.

Anna Noland, 49, was evac­u­ated twice in three days be­fore learn­ing through video footage Satur­day that the house she last saw un­der dark and windy skies had burned.

She planned to stay at a shel­ter at Simp­son Col­lege in Red­ding while she searches for an­other place to live.

“I think I’m still in shock,” Noland said. “It’s just un­be­liev­able know­ing you don’t have a house to go back to.”

Noland is among the 38,000 peo­ple evac­u­ated af­ter the so-called Carr Fire roared into the out­skirts of Red­ding in Shasta County, leav­ing five peo­ple dead, in­clud­ing two fire­fight­ers, a woman and her two great-grand­chil­dren.

“My ba­bies are dead,” Sherry Bled­soe said through tears af­ter she and fam­ily mem­bers met with Shasta County sher­iff ’s deputies Satur­day.

A ve­hi­cle prob­lem ig­nited the fire Mon­day, but it wasn’t un­til Thurs­day that the fire ex­ploded and raced into com­mu­ni­ties west of Red­ding be­fore en­ter­ing city lim­its.

Some 12,000 fire­fight­ers are work­ing 24-hour shifts bat­tling the deadly wild­fires.

The ex­hausted and hun­gry crews are be­com­ing re­signed to fire sea­sons that start ear­lier and burn longer and un­leash in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable blazes. For many of the fire­fight­ers slam­ming down 9,000-calo­rie meals be­tween shifts, the non-stop ef­fort has be­come rou­tine.

Crews made progress on the Carr Fire near Red­ding, the largest city in the re­gion, about 370 kilo­me­tres north of San Fran­cisco. But it was still threat­en­ing thou­sands of homes and wasn’t ex­pected to be fully con­tained un­til mid-Au­gust at the ear­li­est.

In his 19 years on the job, Cal Fire Capt. Chris An­thony said the most sig­nif­i­cant change is that hot­ter, drier con­di­tions now mean that fire­fight­ers are trained to take a “tac­ti­cal pause” to re­con­sider be­fore charg­ing in against the flames.

“Fire has be­come a lot more un­pre­dictable,” he said. “In the past we could plan, but these days a fire can take a sud­den and deadly turn.”

That’s what hap­pened Thurs­day, when the fire near Red­ding piv­oted and ex­ploded in size, tak­ing down hun­dreds of homes and killing five peo­ple, two of them fire­fight­ers. An­other fire­fighter was killed ear­lier in the month bat­tling a gi­ant fire near Yosemite Na­tional Park.

On Satur­day, it pushed south­west of Red­ding to­ward the tiny com­mu­ni­ties of Ono, Igo and Gas Point, where scorch­ing heat, winds and bone-dry con­di­tions com­pli­cated fire­fight­ing ef­forts.

The blaze, which grew slightly Sun­day to 360 square kilo­me­tres, is the largest fire burn­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. More than 5,000 struc­tures were threat­ened, and the fire was just five per cent con­tained.

The lat­est tally showed 517 de­stroyed struc­tures and an­other 135 dam­aged, Romero said. A count by The As­so­ci­ated Press found at least 300 of those struc­tures were homes.

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.

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

The three were among more than a dozen peo­ple re­ported miss­ing af­ter the fu­ri­ous wind­driven blaze took res­i­dents by sur­prise and lev­elled sev­eral neigh­bour­hoods. 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.

— AP

A fire­fighter walks along a con­tain­ment line while bat­tling a wild­fire on Satur­day in Red­ding, Calif. The fire has forced the evac­u­a­tion of 38,000 peo­ple and claimed at least five lives, in­clud­ing two fire­fight­ers.

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