California wildfires claim more lives; crews progress

RESCUE, California. – Thousands fled their homes after forest fires increased in the near of a lake in the city in the North of California, while a deadly blaze further north slowed somewhat as the crew stretched to their limits on the other side of the state to combat the flames, which have claimed the lives of both firefighters and citizens.

The residents of the city on the water Lakeport, fled Sunday after a major flare-up of the two fires that combined into Mendocino and Lake counties destroyed at least four homes. Lakeport, home of approximately 5,000, is located about 120 km north of San Francisco.

More than 4,500 buildings were threatened, officials said. The two fires had black 47 square miles (122 square kilometers), with a minimum inclusion.

About 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the northeast, officials in the area of Salvation struck a hopeful tone for the first time in days as an enormous fire slowed down following days of explosive growth.

“We feel a lot more optimistic today, we are starting to get what the ground instead of in a defensive mode on the fire the whole time,” said Bret Gouvea, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s incident commander on the glow around the Redding, a city about 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said authorities found a sixth victim of the fire in a house that was consumed by the flames, but he refused to say where. The victim’s identity was not released.

The sheriff’s department is also investigating the seven missing persons reports, Bosenko said. Redding police has an additional 11 reports of missing persons, though many of them may simply not have checked in with friends or family, said Redding police Sgt. Todd Cogle.

The so-called Carr Fire that affected Salvation, a city of approximately 92,000 people — was ignited by a vehicle problem on Monday, 10 miles (16 kilometers) to the west of the city. On Thursday, it swept through the historic Gold Rush town of Shasta, and near Keswick fed by the strong winds and dry vegetation. Then jumped in the Sacramento River and took breaks on the western outskirts of Redding.

Redding police chief Roger Moore be held to a around-the-clock work schedule, despite learning that his house was one of those destroyed. He was finally able to shave on Saturday, when his wife brought him a razor, ” he said.

Moore was helping the evacuation of people from his River Ridge neighborhood in west Redding, when the flames became unbearable.

“I saw everything to the light, and I go, ‘It’s gone,” Moore said.

At least one person was arrested on suspicion of stealing from homes evacuated, and the government should watch for other potential looters, said Deputy Travis Ridenour, whose home also burned.

“The loss of our home like so many others,” Ridenour wrote on Facebook. “Still, looking out over the still standing. No looting on my watch.”

The last measurement showed at least 657 homes destroyed and 145 damaged, with the fire that consumed 149 square miles (386 square miles).

After days of strengthening the areas around the Rescue, fire brigade, were becoming more and more convinced that the city would escape further damage. The fire was not grown within the city limits since Saturday, Gouvea said.

Some of the 38,000 people forced to evacuate said they were frustrated because they did not know whether their houses were or were destroyed. Authorities had not opened any evacuated areas where the fire raged because of the safety and ongoing investigations and urged the people to help the patient by saying that they would soon let residents back.

Fed up, on Sunday morning, Tim Bollman walked 4 km from the hotel (6 miles) on the trails and steep terrain to check on the Rescue home he built for his wife and two sons 13 years ago. He found the debris.

“There is not even something to pick up,” he said. “It’s all gone.”

Keswick, a village of about 450 persons, was reduced to a bleak moonscape of charred trees and smoldering rubble.

The land around the nearby Whiskeytown Lake — usually filled with holidaymakers swimming in the clear water, was burned, burn, or seemingly about to burn Sunday. A heavy mist hung low over the water, where a number of the boats docked was melted. Firemen and utility repair crews drove up and down, the once-scenic highway, while California Department of Transportation water trucks sprayed roadsides in the hope of preventing possible fires from burning across the road, which will cost a few million dollars to restore.

The deaths of two firefighters and a woman and her two great-grandchildren.

“My babies are dead,” Sherry Bledsoe said with tears, after she and family members met Saturday with police officers.

Her two children, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts, were stranded with their great-grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, 70 when the flames swept through the family’s rural property Thursday on the outskirts of Redding.

The sixth victim, who was not identified, is not to evacuate, despite receiving an evacuation warning, Bosenko said.

It is the largest fire in California threatening more than 5,000 structures. The flames were only 5 percent contained, although Gouvea said that he expects that number to climb.

The firefighters killed in the hell included, Don Ray Smith, 81, of Pollock Pines, a bulldozer operator who was helping clear the vegetation in the path of the wildfire. Rescue Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke, was also killed, but the details of his death were not released.

The fire around the Rescue was among 17 major brands in the state on Sunday had forced about 50,000 people from their homes, said Lynn Tolmachoff, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.

About 12,000 firefighters were fighting the fires, ” she said.

Meanwhile officials said a second firefighter died fighting a huge blaze to the south near Yosemite National Park. Brian Hughes, 33, was struck by a tree and killed while working as part of a crew removing brush and other fuels in the vicinity of the so-called Ferguson Fire on the front lines, national parks, the officials said.

Originally from Hawaii, Hughes had with California’s Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots for four years and reached the rank of captain. Earlier this month, firefighter Braden Crescent, was killed when the bulldozer he was operating overturned while he was fighting the flames in the vicinity of the national park. At least seven other firefighters have been injured since the blaze broke out July 13.

Some evacuations were lifted, but officials said Yosemite Valley, the heart of tourism in the park, will remain closed until Aug. 3.

A large fire was kept burning in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles near Palm Springs, but officials lifted evacuation orders for several communities after significant progress by firefighters.


Thanawala reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Martha Mendoza in Redding and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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