REDDING (CBS/AP) — A deadly wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes in and around the city of Redding expanded into more rural areas Saturday where scorching heat, winds and bone-dry conditions complicated firefighting efforts.
“We’re really watching the wind,” said Brice Bennett of CalFire. “We’re really watching the weather.”
The fire has charred some 80,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained.
Officials said a ‘vehicle malfunction’ sparked the blaze on Monday afternoon at Highway 299 and Carr Powerhouse Road in Whiskeytown.
Evacuation orders were still in effect on Saturday night for about 30,000 people, more than a third of the city of Redding. Fire officials fear overnight winds may push the fire west, back into Redding.
“We didn’t see a tremendous amount of wind, which is very beneficial to us, so we were able to build some containment lines in other areas but the fire is continuing to push to the south toward Igo and Ono,” said Bennett.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said 14 people had been reported missing after the furious wind-driven blaze took residents by surprise and leveled several neighborhoods, though he added that the homes of most of those unaccounted for were still standing.
Sherry Bledsoe said that her grandmother, 70-year-old Melody Bledsoe, and her children, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts, died in the fire near Redding, bringing the death toll to five since the massive blaze started burning Monday.
Larry Gotelli had only moments to evacuate his home in Igo.
“I grabbed the dog and some water, and then came down here,” he said.
Now he is trying to get any information he can from firefighters about whether his house is still standing.
“Put your hand on my stomach. You can feel it growling. That’s how terrifying it is,” he said.
Tom Mahan ran into a burning neighborhood to help save the home of his friend, firefighter Donovan Lee. As flames closed in on him, he called his family.
“I have a wife and kids and I decided to Facetime them. I didn’t let her know why I was doing it but I wanted to see her face one more time,” Maham told KPIX-TV.
The fire that was ignited Monday in forested hills grew overnight to 127 square miles. It pushed southwest of Redding, about 250 miles north of San Francisco and the largest city in the region with about 92,000 residents, toward tiny communities of Ono, Igo and Gas Point.
It’s now the largest of more than 20 fires burning in California. The winds that aided firefighters in keeping the flames from more populated areas were propelling it forward at a frightening rate.
Weather is the biggest factor in getting some containment.
Two firefighters were killed and the latest tally of 500 destroyed structures was sure to rise. A count by The Associated Press found more than 300 homes destroyed.
Governor Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties. He also ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the 2 firefighters killed in the Carr Fire.
Meanwhile, about 120 miles southwest of Redding, two blazes prompted mandatory evacuations in Mendocino County. The two fires, burning 30 miles apart, started Friday and are threatening more than 350 buildings.
Patients at Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport had to be evacuated. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations for people living in an area of Ukiah north of Highway 175. Residents in neighboring Benmore Valley were also told to leave Saturday.
Cal Fire officials said more than 10,000 firefighters were on the line, making progress on 14 large wildfires across California.
The Carr Fire destroyed nearly all of Keswick, a hamlet just west of Redding. One of the homes lost belonged to Shyla and Jason Campbell.
Jason, a firefighter, was six hours away from his home and family, battling the fire near Yosemite, when the Carr Fire moved in with devastating speed.
“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,’ ” said Shyla, 32. “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 on Friday, he found their home of five years was gone, along with an RV and a boat.
“It’s tough,” Shyla Campbell said Friday as she sheltered in 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.”
Redding police chief Roger Moore was among those who lost homes.
Greg and Terri Hill evacuated their Redding home of 18 years Thursday night with little more than their medications, photo albums, clothes and firearms, assuming they’d be back home in a few days.
When they returned Friday, virtually nothing was left but fine particles of ash. It was so hot, they couldn’t walk through it to see if anything 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.”
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for California on Saturday, allowing counties affected by wildfires to receive federal assistance. In a statement, the White House said the declaration will open up the availability of necessary equipment and resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Huge fires continued to burn outside Yosemite National Park and in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles near Palm Springs. As of Saturday morning, these fires have burned nearly 160,000 acres (64,700 hectares) and destroyed over 500 structures. Yosemite Valley remains closed to visitors and won’t reopen until Friday.
Nationally, 89 active large fires have consumed nearly 930,000 acres (376,000 hectares) in 14 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. So far this year, nearly 37,000 wildfires have burned more than 4.25 million acres.
© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report