Miguel Martinez breaks camp at the Upper Pines Campground in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Martinez and his family had to cut their stay short as portions of Yosemite close today to allow crews to battle the Ferguson fire burning nearby. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Fatal wildfire rips through California towns; residents flee

A fast-moving wildfire, believed to have been sparked by arson, tore through trees, burned homes and forced evacuation orders for an entire mountain town.

An explosive wildfire tore through two small Northern California communities Thursday before reaching the city of Redding, killing a bulldozer operator on the fire lines, burning three firefighters, destroying dozens of homes and forcing thousands of terrified residents to flee.

Flames swept through the communities of Shasta and Keswick before jumping the Sacramento River and reaching Redding, a city of about 92,000 people and the largest in the region.

The so-called Carr Fire is “taking down everything in its path,” said Scott McLean, a CalFire spokesman for the crews battling the blaze.

“It’s just a wall of flames,” he said.

Residents of western Redding who hadn’t been under evacuation orders were caught off guard and had to flee with little notice, causing miles-long traffic jams as flames turned the skies orange.

“When it hit, people were really scrambling,” McLean said. “There was not much of a warning.”

Many firefighters turned their focus from the flames to getting people out alive.

“Really we’re in a life-saving mode right now in Redding,” said Jonathan Cox, battalion chief with Cal Fire. “We’re not fighting a fire. We’re trying to move people out of the path of it because it is now deadly and it is now moving at speeds and in ways we have not seen before in this area.”

Related: Forensics experts work on identifying the dead in Greek fire

Related: Eneas remains out of control, evacuation alerts rescinded

Some residents drove to hotels or the homes of family members in safer parts of California, while other evacuees poured into a shelter just outside of town.

A reporter with KRCR-TV choked up as she reported live updates about the fire before the station had to go off the air later. Two news anchors told viewers that the building was being evacuated and urged residents to “be safe.”

Journalists at the Record Searchlight newspaper tweeted about continuing to report on the fire without electricity in their newsroom, and a reporter at KHSL-TV wrote on Twitter that the station’s Redding reporters were “running home to gather their things.”

Mike Mangas, a spokesman at Mercy Medical Center, said the hospital was evacuating five babies in its neonatal intensive care unit, which cares for premature newborns, and taking them to medical facilities outside of the area.

He said the hospital was preparing high-risk patients to be evacuated but there were no immediate plans to do so.

He said several burn patients were admitted to the emergency room but that most were being treated and released.

Late Thursday, crews found the body of a bulldozer operator who was hired privately to clear vegetation in the blaze’s path, McLean said.

The fire burned over the operator and his equipment, making the man the second bulldozer operator killed in a California blaze in less than two weeks.

Three firefighters and an unknown number of civilians had burns, but the extent of their injuries wasn’t immediately known, McLean said.

“It’s just chaotic. It’s wild,” he said. “There’s a lot of fire, a lot of structures burning.”

Firefighters tried in vain to build containment around the blaze Thursday but flames kept jumping their lines, he said.

“It’s just a heck of a fight,” he said. “They’re doing what they can do and they get pushed out in a lot of cases. We’re fighting the fight right now.”

He said the fire behaviour was so erratic, there were tornadoes within the fire “tossing around equipment, blowing windows out of Cal Fire pickup trucks.”

The 45-square-mile (115-square-kilometre) fire that began Monday tripled in size overnight Thursday amid scorching temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions. It was sparked by a mechanical issue involving a vehicle, Cal Fire said.

Brett Gouvea, incident commander of the crews battling the fire, urged residents to pay close attention to the blaze.

“This fire is extremely dangerous and moving with no regard for what’s in its path,” he said.

Earlier in the day with flames exploding around Whiskeytown Lake, an effort to save boats at a marina by untying them from moorings and pushing them to safety, wasn’t swift enough to spare them all.

Dozens of charred, twisted and melted boats were among the losses at Oak Bottom Marina.

“The boat docks down there — all the way out in the water — 30 to 40 boats caught fire when the fire laid down on top of them last night and burned those up,” said fire Chief Mike Hebrard of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Wildfires throughout the state have burned through tinder-dry brush and forest, forced thousands to evacuate homes and caused campers to pack up their tents at the height of summer. Gov. Jerry Brown declared states of emergency for the three largest fires, which will authorize the state to rally resources to local governments.

The wildfires have dispatched firefighters to all corners of the state amid an oppressive heat wave.

A huge forest fire continued to grow outside Yosemite National Park. That blaze killed 36-year-old Braden Varney, a heavy equipment operator for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection whose bulldozer rolled over into a ravine July 14.

Hundreds of miles to the south, the Cranston Fire grew to 7.5 square miles (19 square kilometres) and about 3,000 residents remained under evacuation orders in Idyllwild and several neighbouring communities. That fire, which destroyed five homes, is believed to have been sparked by arson.

___

Myers reported from Los Angeles. AP reporters Noah Berger in Redding, Brian Melley in Los Angeles, Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, Marcio Jose Sanchez in Idyllwild and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed.

Jonathan J. Cooper And Amanda Lee Myers, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Smoke from a wildfire rises over highway 74, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Mountain Center, Calif. A fast-moving wildfire, believed to have been sparked by arson, tore through trees, burned homes and forced evacuation orders for an entire mountain town as California sweltered under a heat wave and battled ferocious fires at both ends of the state.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Just Posted

Township open burning winds down

Spallumcheen reminds residents of regulation changes as open burning concludes April 30

Mission to host Easter dinner for homeless

“From the staff, volunteers and guests of the Upper Room Mission, we wish you all a Happy Easter.”

Cuteness overload: duckling thinks dog is its mom

Photographer Fiona Hook shot a cute video after noticing one of her ducklings had taken a special liking to her dog.

Fire near Vernon airport “not a concern”

Vernon firefighters attended the scene and found a resident performing a controlled burn

Keep an eye on this up-and-coming Vernon director

15-year-old Bowen O’Brien celebrates filmmaking successes.

Update: Fire destroys Peachland home on Somerset Avenue

Crews are still on scene pumping water onto the blaze

QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Take this short quiz and put your knowledge to the test

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Global Affairs warns Canadians in Sri Lanka there could be more attacks

A series of bomb blasts killed at least 207 people and injured hundreds more

Waste not: Kootenay brewery leftovers feed the local food chain

Spent grains from the Trail Beer Refinery are donated to local farmers and growers, none go to waste

Summerland student examines effects of sound

Science fair project will go to national competition in New Brunswick

Sons of Anarchy’s Kim Coates stops by Okanagan café

Coates was spotted in West Bank’s Kekuli Café on April 20

B.C. women make 2,200 cabbage rolls for charity

The money raised was donated to former NHL player Aaron Volpatti, who is raising funds for ALS

Deck collapses in Langley during celebration, 35 people injured

Emergency responders rushed to the Langley home

Most Read