At least six deaths have been recorded as wildfire roared through two small Northern California communities and the town of Redding.
Late in the day of July 26, fire crews found the body of a bulldozer operator who was hired privately to clear vegetation in the wildfire’s path.
This is the second case of a bulldozer operator killed in a California blaze in less than two weeks.
Flames ripped through the communities of Shasta and Keswick before crossing the Sacramento River on July 26 and reaching Redding, the largest city in the region with about 92,000 residents.
Residents in the western part of Redding who hadn’t been given evacuation orders yet were caught by surprise and had to flee unprepared, causing mile-long traffic jams in the ensuing panic.
According to CalFire spokesman Scott McLean, the wildfire is “taking down everything in its path”. He added “When it hit, people were really scrambling, there was not much of a warning.”
Firefighters tried in vain to contain the fire last Thursday, but McLean said the flames just kept jumping their lines. He added that the fire’s behavior was so unpredictable, it had tornadoes within the fire “tossing around equipment, blowing windows out of Cal Fire pickup trucks.”
Many firefighters have shifted their priority from putting out the flames to getting people out of the area.
“Really, we’re in a life-saving mode right now in Redding,” said Jonathan Cox, a battalion chief with CalFire. “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.”
Evacuees poured into a shelter just outside of town, while others drove to hotels or the homes of relatives in other parts of the state.
Mike Mangas, a spokesman at Mercy Medical Center, said several burn patients were admitted to the emergency room, though most will be released after treatment.
He said the hospital is evacuating five babies in its neonatal intensive care unit for transfer to medical facilities outside the area. Mangas also said the hospital is was preparing high-risk patients to be evacuated, although there are no immediate plans yet to do so.
Three firefighters and an unknown number of civilians have also been reported injured by burns, but the extent of their injuries is still unknown, according to McLean. The fire has destroyed more than 1,100 structures so far.
The wildfire, dubbed “Carr Fire”, is among the 88 active large fires in the country and one of six large wildfires in California, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
If you are in an area where wildfire may be likely, be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Keep yourself informed and watch out for the latest official announcements from your local authorities.