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Related: Eneas remains out of control, evacuation alerts rescinded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

Lagoon improvements, but no safety audit recommendations, coming to Harrison

The lagoon will see electrical upgrades, a new flag pole and fencing, but no life jackets or signs

UFV introduces first mindfulness graduate program in Canada

Most of the University of the Fraser Valley program is offered online

Chilliwack churns out new generation of wildfire fighters

School district partners with B.C. Wildfire Service to prep Grade 12s for careers

All child porn charges against Chilliwack realtor dismissed

Meissner’s computers contained ‘miniscule’ amount of content normally found on offenders’ devices

Mounties hunt for missing Langley man

The public has been asked to help locate David Grainger, last seen on March 19

Harrison Hot Springs students bring ‘Twelfth Night’ to life

The adaption of Shakespeare’s classic comedy include songs and phrases from Canada’s east coast

Giants begin playoff run in Langley tonight

With one win and a loss last weekend, the G-Men now top the Western Conference

Vancouver Giant named to Western Conference first-tier all-star team

Young hockey defenceman Bowen Byram is once again lauded for his outstanding efforts on the ice

Permit rejected to bring two cheetahs to B.C.

Earl Pfeifer owns two cheetahs, one of which escaped in December 2015

Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni prompts evacuation updates

UBC study says some people didn’t recognize the emergency signal

Care providers call for B.C. seniors’ watchdog to step down

The association also asks the province to conduct an audit and review of the mandate of her office

Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from B.C. roaster recalled due to botulism scare

“If you purchased N7 Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from Cherry Hill … do not drink it.”

B.C. man gets award for thwarting theft, sexual assault – all in 10 minutes

Karl Dey helped the VPD take down a violent sex offender

Punching Parkinson’s in the Fraser Valley

Rock Steady Boxing program, designed to help battle symptoms of Parkinson’s, coming to Abbotsford in April

Most Read