Calif. wild­fire kills 2 chil­dren and their great-grand­mother

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY JONATHAN J. COOPER AND BRIAN MELLEY

The death count from a rapidly grow­ing North­ern Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire rose to five Satur­day after two young chil­dren and their great-grand­mother who had been un­ac­counted for were con­firmed dead.

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

Bled­soe’s two chil­dren, James Roberts, 5, and Emily Roberts, 4, were stranded with her grand­mother Melody Bled­soe, 70, when fire swept through the ru­ral area where they were stay­ing Thurs­day.

The three were among more than a dozen peo­ple 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 that cars were gone – a strong in­di­ca­tion they fled.

The fire that was ig­nited Mon­day in forested hills grew overnight to 127 square miles. It pushed south­west of Redding to­ward tiny com­mu­ni­ties of Ono, Igo and Gas Point, where scorch­ing heat, winds and bone-dry con­di­tions com­pli­cated fire­fight­ing ef­forts.

It’s now the largest of more than 20 fires burn­ing in Cal­i­for­nia. The winds that aided fire­fight­ers in keep­ing the flames from more pop­u­lated ar­eas were pro­pel­ling it for­ward at a fright­en­ing rate.

“We’re not get­ting a break with the weather,” said Chris An­thony, a spokesman for Cal Fire, the state agency re­spon­si­ble for fighting wild­fires. “It just con­tin­ues to be re­ally hot, re­ally dry and we con­tinue to get those winds. ... This fire’s get­ting so big and there are so many dif­fer­ent parts to it.”

Two fire­fight­ers were killed and the lat­est tally of 500 de­stroyed struc­tures was sure to rise. A count by The As­so­ci­ated Press found more than 300 homes de­stroyed.

About 38,000 peo­ple are un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders, 5,000 homes are threat­ened and the fire was just 5 per­cent con­tained.

Au­thor­i­ties said they were in­ves­ti­gat­ing re­ports of loot­ing in neigh­bor­hoods that were evac­u­ated. Of­fi­cials have iden­ti­fied sev­eral sus­pects.

Redding Po­lice Chief Roger Moore said his depart­ment had been re­ceiv­ing re­ports of peo­ple driv­ing around evac­u­ated ar­eas and shoul­der­ing the doors of houses that are still stand­ing. Moore said Satur­day that no ar­rests had been made yet.

Bosenko, the sher­iff, said of­fi­cials were tight­en­ing se­cu­rity in evac­u­a­tion zones. He said more than 100 of­fi­cers and 260 Na­tional Guard sol­diers were help­ing with evac­u­a­tions and pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity in the empty neigh­bor­hoods.

Mean­while, about 120 miles south­west of Redding, two blazes prompted manda­tory evac­u­a­tions in Men­do­cino County. The two fires, burn­ing 30 miles apart, started Friday and are threat­en­ing more than 350 build­ings. The Men­do­cino County Sher­iff’s Of­fice or­dered evac­u­a­tions for peo­ple liv­ing in an area north of High­way 175 near Ho­p­land. Res­i­dents in neigh­bor­ing Ben­more Val­ley were also told to leave Satur­day.

Cal Fire of­fi­cials said more than 10,000 fire­fight­ers were on the line, mak­ing progress on 14 large wild­fires across Cal­i­for­nia.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is­sued an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion for Cal­i­for­nia on Satur­day, al­low­ing coun­ties af­fected by wild­fires to re­ceive fed­eral as­sis­tance.

HEC­TOR AMEZCUA [email protected]

A Cal Fire fire­fighter cre­ates a back burn on South Fork near the town of Igo, Calif., on Satur­day dur­ing the Carr Fire in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. It’s one of more than 20 fires burn­ing in the state.

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