Bulldozer driver killed in California wildfire

A private hire dozer operator died while battling the Carr Fire, a raging Northern California wildfire.

Posted: Jul 28, 2018 3:30 AM
Updated: Jul 28, 2018 3:30 AM

Officials were driving Friday through the smoldering remains of a neighborhood in the Northern California city of Redding, trying to determine the number of homes lost to a fast wildfire that also killed two people.

A CNN crew in one neighborhood estimated dozens of homes were nothing but piles of ash.

Residents and relatives were allowed back in to see whether there were items that could be salvaged or whether pets left behind could be found.

Chris Corona went to his parents' home to look for their cat, Jinx. The home was gone, but Jinx was there, safely hiding in a bush on a hillside not touched by the flames that killed all the other vegetation.

Corona wept as he thought of things they lost in the house.

"I can't believe it's gone. All those memories, childhood memories, " he said. "Stuff that parents save like stuff you built as a little kid for your mom. I'm just glad my mom got all the valuable stuff that she wanted out."

A neighbor had a similar experience: grabbed personal items in a hurry, forced to leave scared pet behind, returned to find dog alive.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, had authorities in the area assessing the damage.

The Carr Fire in Shasta County had ravaged the small communities of Shasta and Keswick before jumping the Sacramento River and burning houses on the outskirts of Redding, a city of 95,000 people 120 miles south of the California-Oregon border, according to Cal Fire.

The fast-growing wildfire forced mass evacuations as it moved into the city limits of Redding, authorities said.

Alistair Sullivan told CNN affiliate KPIX that he drove home Thursday night to find firefighters in his Redding neighborhood, telling him and neighbors to evacuate. He got some papers and his guitars and left.

"This came out of nowhere," he told the station outside his house that had burned down. "You try to grab things that you think are pretty important. ...Then you leave and you think -- 'I should have grabbed that.' "

A resident of French Gulch, west of Redding, said she had two hours to evacuate, but some people only had 30 minutes.

"It's terrifying," Rachel Hines told CNN affiliate KRCR, "You're frightened a little bit because you don't know if you're going to come back to your house and the town is going to be different."

The fire has destroyed at least 65 structures so far, damaged 55 others and threatens almost 5,000 homes and buildings, Cal Fire spokesman Scott Kenney said.

"This fire is making a significant push into the northwest portion of Redding," Cal Fire incident commander Chief Brett Gouvea told reporters. "This fire is extremely dangerous and is moving with no regard to what's (in) its path"

Two people died fighting the fire and three firefighters were injured. Eight people were treated for respiratory and burn-related injuries at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The blaze doubled in size in the last 12 hours, and now covers 44,450 acres, with only 3% containment, Cal Fire said Friday morning.

'This fire is out of control!'

Cal Fire said that a Redding firefighter had died but provided no details.

A private hire bulldozer operator, who was not identified, died Thursday while also battling the fire.

There have now been three fire-related deaths in the state in recent weeks. Braden Varney, 36, a heavy fire equipment operator, was killed last weekend while battling another blaze near Yosemite National Park.

"As we mourn the loss, we also battle a fire that is moving extremely quickly and erratically into western Redding," Gouvea said.

At least three firefighters have been injured, but the extent of their injuries is unknown, said Scott McLean, another Cal Fire spokesman.

More than 1,700 firefighters have been trying to control the blaze since it broke out Monday, but hot and windy conditions continue fueling it, officials said. Two hundred California National Guardsmen have been brought in to help firefighters, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma of the National Guard.

"The fire is creating a huge wind vacuum and moving very rapidly toward west Redding. This fire is out of control!" the California Highway Patrol said in a Facebook post Thursday night urging residents to evacuate.

The fire started Monday apparently due to the mechanical failure of a vehicle, fire officials said. Flames have consumed trees, houses and historic buildings in Shasta County for days and temporarily closed traffic along Highway 299.

It also struck the Oak Bottom Marina at Whiskeytown Lake, west of Redding, leaving about 40 boats and part of the dock burned or charred, the Redding Record Searchlight reported.

"The only buildings left standing down there right now are the fire station and a couple of the restrooms," Shasta County Fire Chief Mike Hebrard told the paper. "The concession stands are burned up."

KRCR, a Redding TV station and CNN affiliate, interrupted its newscast and evacuated its facility Thursday night as the fire approached.

"Right now we are being evacuated, that's why we are kind of closing out right now," said news anchor Allison Woods during a live broadcast. "We are going to leave the station because (it) is now unsafe to be here."

Evacuation orders caught many people in Redding off guard and caused traffic jams as they tried to get out of town, according to McLean, the Cal Fire spokesman.

"When it hit, people were really scrambling," he told CNN affiliate KTXL. "There was not much of a warning."

Firefighters face a difficult task in the days ahead, with dry conditions and temperatures expected to near 110 F on Friday.

"They're in triple digits through Thursday" with no rain forecast, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.

The fire also has disrupted rail travel. Amtrak said Coast Starlight service, operating daily between Seattle and Los Angeles, has been stopped between Sacramento and Klamath Falls, Oregon, until conditions change.

Babies evacuated from hospital

At least five babies are being evacuated from the neonatal intensive care unit at Mercy Medical Center due to the fire, hospital spokesman Rick Plummer said.

Some babies are being airlifted to hospitals in Sacramento, while others are being transferred in ambulances.

The hospital is not under a mandatory evacuation order, but the infants are being evacuated because of the time and intense resources needed to relocate them.

Medics and hospital staff have been affected by the fire as well.

"Several staff members have evacuated their own homes, then returned to care for patients," Plummer said. "Several members have lost their homes."

Hospital staff is preparing to evacuate the facility if needed, a Cal Fire spokesman said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday for Riverside and Shasta counties in response to fires.

More than 80 wildfires in the US

The Carr Fire is among 89 active large fires scorching 14 states and one of six large wildfires in California, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

Elsewhere in California, the Ferguson Fire has prompted the closure of the most iconic areas of Yosemite National Park until Sunday, killed one person and injured several firefighters.

The blaze, which is raging west of the park, has burned 45,911 acres and is 29% contained, Cal Fire said Friday morning. About 3,800 firefighters are on the scene.

Another massive wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest, known as the Cranston Fire, prompted thousands to flee their homes and led to the arrest of a man.

Brandon N. McGlover, 32, of Temecula was detained Wednesday and is facing five counts of arson to wildland, the Riverside County Fire Department and Cal Fire said.

Authorities said they believe McGlover started not only the Cranston Fire but other fires in the region as well.

More than 1,300 firefighters are battling that blaze, which has scorched 11,500 acres and is only 3% contained, according to San Bernardino National Forest officials.

The fire, which is about 5 miles southwest of Palm Springs, has led to the evacuation of the town of Idyllwild and other communities.

The area around Idyllwild was the site of a massive wildfire in July 2013 that burned more than 27,000 acres.

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