Death toll in wildfire near Redding climbs to six as firefighters struggle to slow 89,000-acre blaze

More than a dozen people reported missing, 500 structures destroyed.


The body of another victim of a massive wildfire burning in Shasta County was recovered Sunday, bringing the total number of fatalities to six, including two firefighters, authorities said.

The identity of the victim or any other details about how the person died were not immediately available, officials said during an afternoon news conference in Redding. The discovery came one day after a family member confirmed the deaths of a 70-year-old woman and her two great-grandchildren.

Authorities said half a dozen other people are still reported missing.


With the unyielding temperatures over 100 degrees and bone-dry vegetation, authorities said there was no end in sight to the Carr fire. Between Friday night and Saturday morning, the fire doubled in size to more than 80,000 acres, the largest of 17 fires burning across the state.

As of Sunday, the blaze had burned more than 89,000 acres and is now burning in a northwest direction away from homes. The fire is only 5% contained but authorities said Sunday they are optimistic that figure will rise by nightfall.

Erratic winds and hot, dry conditions continue to hamper firefighting efforts. A red flag warning and heat advisory will remain in effect through Monday.

Tom Dang, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office, said that over the next few days humidity levels will fall to around 10% or 15%, and wind gusts of up to 20 mph are still expected in the afternoons and evenings.

The lone source of minor relief is the temperature, which is expected to reach an afternoon and evening high of about 100 degrees, Dang said.

“This fire has burned so intensely, an incredible amount of smoke has been put into the air, and that’s helping to hold down temperatures a little bit,” he said. “If it weren’t for the smoke, we would be expecting temperatures upwards of 105 to 110.”


Daniel Potter, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said firefighters Sunday were focusing on protecting structures on the eastern and southeastern edge of the fire, which still poses some threat to the communities of Redding and Shasta Lake. He said hand crews — aided by bulldozers — were working furiously to establish more fire lines before winds start picking up from the east later in the afternoon.

The winds so far have not been as bad as in previous days, he said, noting that such breaks in the weather help.

“If there’s limited winds it gives us the chance to get on the fire’s edge and try to stop it,” Potter said.

Hand crews have been doing most of the firefighting because heavy smoke has made visibility a challenge for aircraft, he said.

The blaze in Shasta County was one of 17 major wildfires burning across California on Sunday, consuming a combined 200,000 acres, said Jonathan Cox, battalion chief and information officer with Cal Fire.

“We’ve had 17 fires before,” Cox said. “But these are impacting communities — and they’re large fires, not small.”

With so many fires burning near populated areas, “resources are obviously stretched thin,” he said.

By Sunday afternoon, about 12,000 firefighters from within the state had responded. Another 800 personnel — soldiers and helicopter crews — had been deployed by the California National Guard. And 150 fire engines were on the way from other parts of the country, Cox said.

“There’s a finite number of [firefighting] resources in California, and obviously we’re employing them at the highest-priority incidents where the threat to lives and structures is the highest,” Cox said.

On Twitter, officials with the state’s Office of Emergency Services said California will be receiving help from crews from at least a dozen other states, including Florida and New Jersey.

The deaths of Melody Bledsoe, 70, and her great-grandchildren, Emily Roberts, 5, and James Roberts, 4, were announced Saturday by family members. The three were killed when their Redding home burned Thursday night.

Bledsoe’s granddaughter Amanda Woodley confirmed the news about their deaths Saturday in a public Facebook post written just after she left the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office. Woodley said Bledsoe did everything she could to save the children.

“She was hovered over them both with a wet blanket,” she wrote.

“My heart is crushed,” she said. “I can’t believe this is real. I just keep seeing all of their beautiful faces.”

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Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said no bodies had been found yet, but his investigators are “overwhelmingly sure that there are decedents at the scene.” He said access to the home has been difficult as the walls collapsed during the fire.

The fire, started Monday by a vehicle mechanical failure on California 299, previously claimed the lives of Redding fire inspector Jeremy Stoke and bulldozer operator Don Ray Smith.

In addition to the human cost, at least 500 homes and other structures have succumbed to flames, authorities said.

Sam White’s home of 30 years was destroyed in the fire. But seeing the fire’s destruction put his loss into perspective.

“Everything we had there was nice, but it was stuff,” White, 74, said from Shasta Lake, where he is sheltering with family. “We have our lives. That’s all that counts.”

Early Thursday morning, 16-year-old Hannalora Lewis of Redding was awakened by her mother. Authorities had ordered them to evacuate. The teenager grabbed an outfit, the new pair of sneakers she bought while back-to-school shopping, her camera and her phone.

As she bent down to grab her favorite blanket, her eyes swept over a box filled with mementos — ticket stubs from her favorite movies, rusty nails from the old railroad track she visited in Santa Cruz, rocks, trinkets and her old diaries. For a split second, she contemplated taking it, but she thought it would occupy too much room in the car. Her parents wrangled the dogs, grabbed photos and computers, and almost left her brother’s diabetes medicine.

She raced past the Honda Civic that her father had given her three days before and hopped in her mom’s van with her twin brother and sister. Tears started streaming down her brother’s face.

“I told him to stop because I thought he was being ridiculous,” she said. “I thought it would be a one-day thing.”

Hannalora’s mom tried to reassure her brother, telling him that they were just going to visit their grandparents for a day and that the evacuation was a safety precaution.

The next day, a neighbor sent a picture of their house, leveled by the fire.

The walls of the two-story yellow house were crumpled as if a giant had stepped on them. The house’s charred remains lay exposed. In the cul-de-sac was the shell of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van that Hannalora’s dad built bunk beds inside, where they slept when they went camping.

“I didn’t think for a second that we would lose our home,” Hannalora said.

But in this tragedy, Hannalora said, she found community. She has leaned on friends who have also lost their homes. Everybody affected by the fires, she said, is trying to find some silver lining.

The fire consumed her brother’s Xbox, on which he spent hours playing video games. The family joked that that was OK — now he can spend more time with them.

Her parents said they plan to rebuild, and Hannalora, who aspires to be an architect, will get to help.

“We just list off the positives,” she said. “That’s all we have, is the silver lining right now.”

Vives reported from Redding and Ryan, Zahniser and Jennings from Los Angeles.

Times staff writers Andrea Castillo, Marisa Gerber and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde contributed to this report.


5:20 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from a resident whose home was destroyed in the fire.

4:00 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials.

3:05 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from officials about a sixth fire victim.

1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from Cal Fire.

12:25 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials.

10:55 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from the National Weather Service.

9:05 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials.

8:40 a.m.: This article was updated with path of fire.

7:20 a.m.: This article was updated with new numbers.

This article was originally published at 3 a.m.