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Firefighters try to make progress on 17 fires that cut path of destruction

Firefighters try to make progress on 17 fires that cut path of destruction
The El Dorado Hotshots battle the Carr fire near Buckhorn Summit, Calif., on Highway 299 on July 30. (Paul Kitagaki Jr. / TNS)

The neighborhood looked like a patch quilt of destruction. One home, reduced to a heap of smoldering rubble. Next door, another home stood unscathed.

The pattern continued until Elizabeth Barkley, acting commander of the California Highway Patrol’s Northern Division, drove up to her own property in Redding and confirmed what she’d already heard: Her home was gone.

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“I realized I’m just one of the many that is going to be in this situation,” Barkley said from a hotel room. “All these fires are so hard on towns.”

In all, the deadly Carr fire had claimed six lives, devoured 818 homes and burned more than 103,000 acres by Monday night, leaving behind a trail of devastation as firefighters struggled to get a handle on flames. Crews had increased containment to 23%, marking significant progress on the largest and most destructive of at least 17 wildfires burning across the state. In some areas, thousands of weary residents were allowed to return home.

“We’re starting to feel good about where we are going,” Bret Gouvea, incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told more than 300 residents at a community meeting Monday afternoon. “Things are getting better, but we have a long road ahead. But trust me, we will get there.”

A day before she lost her home, Barkley spent hours frantically knocking on doors imploring residents to pack up and go. Covered in ash and sweat, she helped direct traffic out of the city. She said her fiance, an emergency room doctor, was seeing people with burns and elderly residents who had broken bones in falls while evacuating.

Still, she never thought the blaze would actually hit her neighborhood.

She was on her way to a briefing Friday morning where she’d help decide where up to 200 CHP personnel would be deployed that day. Her phone buzzed — a lieutenant was calling.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she recalled him saying. “Your house is gone.”

“Shut up,” she told him. “No way.”

“Chief,” he said, “Your house is gone.”

When the loss set in, she thought of things she’d never see again. The christening gowns of her two daughters that she hoped to one day pass down to their girls. Her grandmother’s china that held years of memories from Christmases and Thanksgivings.

“Things you can’t replace,” Barkley said, later adding: “At the end of the day, it’s just stuff.”

When she drove up to the rubble, Barkley noticed one thing that didn’t burn: Her American flag was still flying outside her home, untouched.

(L.A. Times Graphics)

Officials said they expect containment on the Carr fire to increase in the next 24 hours, though crews were hampered by searing temperatures and dry weather. Winds were also expected to pick up overnight. On its west flank, firefighters were setting back fires, a tactic used to stop the fire from spreading. To the north, the fire continued to burn in wilderness, while the eastern flank was not as active.

“The terrain is just awful and difficult to access. It’s just inaccessible in a lot of areas,” said Dominic Polito, a spokesman for the Carr fire. “If you were to walk up it, you’d be looking at your knee on every step.”

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Among those killed in the Carr fire were a woman and her two great-grandchildren. The woman’s husband, Ed Bledsoe, told CBS News that he did not receive an evacuation warning before the blaze tore through their home, raising questions about how authorities alerted residents.

“If I’d have any kind of warning, I’d have never, ever left my family in that house,” Bledsoe said.

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said his department was looking into whether a deputy had knocked at the woman’s home. He said authorities notified residents of the fire danger in several ways, including tapping a system that makes 911 reverse calls on landline phones.

In Mendocino County, a pair of fires exploded to more than 68,000 acres. By Monday night, they were 5% contained.

The Mendocino Complex fires are “the most active” in that county right now, said Scott McLean, deputy chief with Cal Fire. “The smaller fires we had going are starting to wrap up, which is good news.”

In Southern California, the Cranston fire near Idyllwild was 82% contained Monday, after burning 13,139 acres and five homes since it started last week. A brushfire that erupted in Santa Clarita on Monday afternoon scorched 10 acres and partially burned a residential complex before firefighters got a handle on it.

In Redding, authorities are patrolling the empty town and arrested two men Sunday night on suspicion of unauthorized entry into an enclosed area, according to Redding police.

Authorities also arrested two other people Sunday afternoon in Shasta County on suspicion of looting, after deputies found that the front door to a home in an evacuated area had been forced open, and electronic items were stacked by the door, according to a Shasta County sheriff’s statement. Redding residents Jack Fannin, 19, and Jade Ball, 25, were arrested and booked at Shasta County Jail.

News of possible looters had shaken some residents.

Lake Redding resident James Anderson placed multiple motion sensors throughout his yellow wood-frame home on Hartland Drive. “I put one by the porch so that I know who’s coming,” he said Monday. “I put one on the side gate. The other day it had been left open and I had it closed.”

Anderson, 74, said home burglaries are already a problem in the area. Although evacuations were ordered for his neighborhood, Anderson said he decided to stay to make sure his home was safe. He said firefighters brought him cans of soup during the first few nights of the fire, but now his food supply was dwindling.

He’s now contemplating using his mountain bike to take side trails into town to pick up food and sneak back in. He’s not sure what will happen if he runs into any authorities.

“If they hassle me, I’m just going to tell them to go to hell,” Anderson said.

Shasta County Dist. Atty. Stephani A. Bridgett said her office has received 60 complaints about price gouging and intends to investigate. The state’s anti-price gouging statute prohibits businesses from raising the price of many goods and services by more than 10% during an emergency.

Robert Seals, 71, said he looks forward to when things go back to normal in Redding.

“They don’t want to let anyone in until they checked the entire neighborhood,” he said. “I’m patient, but it’s frustrating not to go in where there’s no problem.”

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Vives reported from Redding, Tchekmedyian and Kohli from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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