REDDING, Calif. (CBSNEWS/AP) – A deadly wildfire charring northern California has reportedly claimed the lives of three more people, including two young children. Police have yet to confirm the new fatalities, but CBS San Francisco quoted Sherry Bledsoe on Saturday as saying her son and daughter and her grandmother died in the fire that tore through Redding.
The fatalities bring the death toll to five since the massive Carr Fire started six days ago. CBS San Francisco identified the latest victims as Melody Bledsoe, 70, and her great-grandchildren, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts.
At least six other people were still listed as missing as of Saturday morning, according to CBS San Francisco.
Two firefighters had already been killed by the fire, Redding fire inspector Jeremy Stoke and a bulldozer operator whose name wasn’t immediately released. He was the second bulldozer operator killed in a California blaze in less than two weeks.
Only a handful of homes still stand in Keswick, a small northern California community consumed by wildfire. The air is thick with the smell of smoke and chemicals, and the smoldering remains are still too hot to sift through. The Carr fire, still mostly uncontained, so thoroughly devoured homes as it roared through Shasta County that it’s hard to say how many were there just days before.
Somewhere in the ash is the home of Shyla and Jason Campbell, a firefighter who was six hours away battling a wildfire burning near Yosemite Valley when the Carr Fire moved in on his home and family.
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Shyla Campbell, 32, said it was nearly 2 a.m. Thursday when she got an official alert to evacuate.
“It’s huge flames, it’s coming up the hill, and everyone’s out and we’re watching it, then it goes down, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh it’s going out,’ ” she said. “And I’m like, ‘No, it’s going down the mountain and it’s going to come back up the next ridge.'”
She was right.
The family spent the night at a hotel. When Jason Campbell returned from the blaze he was fighting on Friday, he found his own home had gone up in flames, along with an RV and a boat.
The Campbells’ home of five years is among at least 500 structures that officials say were destroyed by the fire, which also swept through the historic Gold Rush town of Shasta and hit homes in Redding, a city of 92,000 about 100 miles south of the Oregon border.
“It’s tough,” Shyla Campbell said Friday from the city of Shasta Lake. “I just have to figure out where we’re going to stay. We’re just trying to stay away from the fire.”
On Saturday, thousands remained under evacuation orders — and 5,000 buildings remained under threat — after officials said the blaze had almost doubled in size overnight. They also said it was moving away from populated areas.
Chris Anthony, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the Carr Fire has scorched 125 square miles. Anthony said winds are fueling the fire, which is 5 percent contained, but also pushing it away from Redding and other populated areas.
Elsewhere in California, large fires continued to burn outside Yosemite National Park and in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles near Palm Springs. And two new blazes burning 30 miles apart are threatening dozens of buildings and have prompted mandatory evacuations in Northern California’s Mendocino County. The fires that began Friday are burning about 120 miles southwest of Redding.
The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said mandatory evacuations are in place for people living an area of Ukiah north of Highway 175. Officials in neighboring Lake County say residents of Benmore Valley were ordered to evacuate Saturday morning. They say the blazes are threatening more than 350 buildings.
Nationally, 89 active large fires had consumed more than 900,000 acres in 14 states as of Saturday morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
A broken-down vehicle started the Carr Fire on Monday, CBS News’ Carter Evans reports from Redding. The blaze began as a small wildfire and erupted into a living hellscape.
Thousands of people scrambled to escape before the walls of flames descended from forested hills onto their neighborhoods Thursday. Residents who gathered their belongings in haste described a chaotic and congested getaway as the embers blew up to a mile ahead of flames and the fire leaped across the wide Sacramento River and torched subdivisions in Redding.
“It’s like a war zone,” one woman said. “It’s just like a bomb just hit each house and just exploded.”
Redding police chief Roger Moore was among those who lost their homes, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Greg and Terri Hill evacuated their Redding home of 18 years Thursday night with their medications, photo albums, clothes and firearms, assuming they’d be back in a few days.
But when they returned Friday, virtually nothing was left of their home but fine particles of ash.
The remains were smoldering so hot, they couldn’t get too close to see if anything had survived.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Terri Hill said. “I know it’s just stuff. A lot of memories. But we’ll make new memories and get new stuff. Everybody’s safe.”
The Hills fled before they were told to, knowing danger was afoot when the power went out and helicopters suddenly began flying low over their home.
Liz Williams loaded up two kids in her car and then found herself locked in bumper-to-bumper traffic with neighbors trying to retreat from Lake Redding Estates.
She eventually jumped the curb onto the sidewalk and “booked it.”
“I’ve never experienced something so terrifying in my life,” she said. “I didn’t know if the fire was just going to jump out behind a bush and grab me and suck me in.”
The flames moved so fast that firefighters working in oven-like temperatures and bone-dry conditions had to drop efforts to battle the blaze at one point to help people escape.
The fire, which created at least two flaming tornados that toppled trees, shook firefighting equipment and busted truck windows, took “down everything in its path,” said Scott McLean, a spokesman for Cal Fire, the state agency responsible for fighting wildfires.
“They say it was like a ‘fire tornado,'” said Chris Corona, one man who lives in the area.
On Friday, he returned to sift through what was left.
“This was my house since I was born,” he said, getting emotional.
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