RESCUE, California. – Two young children and their 70-year-old great-grandmother died in the wildfire that swept into the town of Salvation with devastating speed, their family said Saturday, a bulldozer operator who died working for the fire was identified as an 81-year-old man from a small village east of Sacramento.
A tearful Sherry Bledsoe confirmed the death of her grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, and her children, James Roberts, 5, and Emily Roberts, 4.
The fatalities brought the death toll to five since the so-called Carr Fire began to burn on Monday. It exploded Thursday, jumped in the Sacramento River and came to the Redding city limits.
The bulldozer operator was identified by the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department, as Don Ray Smith of Pollock Pines. He was overtaken by fire, while on the job, and his body was found Thursday.
Authorities earlier identified one other firefighter fatality as a Redding Fire department Inspector Jeremy Stoke, who was killed at work on Thursday evening. Details have not been released.
Donna Araiza, founder of the Alyssa Araiza “Wings of Angels” organization for seriously ill children, said Stoke regularly donated to her group, as well as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“He and his wife, Alyson, were always support us,” Araiza told the Record Searchlight, Redding’s daily newspaper. “He was a generous and a good man.”
The Bledsoes lived in the vicinity of the Keswick country Estates neighborhood, and their house, like many others, was reduced to ashes. The tragedy let Ed Bledsoe without his wife and the grandchildren he doted on.
“He lost everything. Everything. You can’t lose more than the family. And then you lose everything on top of that?” said Don Kewley, whose girlfriend is one of the Bledsoes’ granddaughters. “The guy got the shirt on his back and the pants on his hip. Such as it is.”
Ed Bledsoe was left for deliveries Thursday to think the flames were far away, but while shopping, he received a desperate call from his great-grandson. The boy said that he had to come back to the house.
Flames were closed.
“We need your help,” the boy said, according to Jason Decker, who is the friend of another Bledsoe granddaughter.
Kewley, said the family believed the area was not in danger and Melody Bledsoe had no car.
Ed Bledsoe went quickly to the house, but was returned by the police. The fire was raging, and there were walls of fire.
Decker took the day off work on Friday and drove his motorcycle to the house to look for the members of the family, but only to find the smoldering remains of the house.
A day later, what remained of the Bledsoe property was surrounded with crime scene tape.
Decker said that his own children played with James and Emily and the children were trick-or-treated together.
“I don’t even have more tears to cry,” Decker said. “But I keep finding them.”
Melley reported from Los Angeles.