Calif. wildfire kills 2 children and their great-grandmother
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.
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.