The metal swing set is hard to spot in the charred front yard of Ed and Melody Bledsoe’s house, where the Carr fire in Redding Thursday night demolished the once-bucolic property on a ridge at the edge of town.
It is the only remnant of what this place was three days ago: A family home filled with knickknacks, determination and love.
Now, flames spew above a broken gas line yards from the play set, and unidentifiable chunks of gray-black rubble are buried under its melted roof, curved like a chocolate bar left too long in the sun. Somewhere under it are likely the remains of Melody Bledsoe and her two great-grandchildren, Emily, 4, and James, 5.
Trapped with no transportation, they could not escape the fast-moving inferno.
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After two excruciating days of searching evacuation shelters and fighting dread, the Bledsoe family was called into the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office at noon Saturday, where they were told there is no reason left to hope, said Carla Bledsoe, one of the kids’ 10 aunts and uncles.
Bodies had been found at the site.
“That woman was the best woman I ever seen and them two kids was absolutely angels,” said Ed Bledsoe, Melody’s husband, standing in front of the Sheriff’s office with three generations of his family around him. “They done everything for grandma and grandpa, everything.”
Ed and Melody were raising the children because their mother had problems, said Shelly Hoskinson, another of the kids’ aunts and granddaughter of Ed and Melody.
Emily and James, who everyone called Junior, had lived with their great-grandparents “for as long as I can remember,” she said. “My sister just chose not to really keep them and my (great) grandpa and grandma stepped up and said, ‘Hey, send them my way.’”
Hoskinson said the Bledsoes were “old-school” parents who believed in having fun – the kind that sent the kids outside to make mudpies, or ride dirt bikes around the yard. And while they were sometimes overwhelmed, calling her to help out, they were committed to raising their great-grandchildren.
“They have been so amazing,” said Hoskinson, giving the kids “the best life they possibly can.”
But the Bledsoes were not technologically savvy. Ed Bledsoe owned a flip-style cell phone, and while Melody could use social media, she didn’t do it often, said Hoskinson. On the day of the fire, Ed had taken their only working car down the hill into town, said Hoskinson.
Neither Ed Bledsoe nor any of the Bledsoe family knew of the evacuation order that had been issued for their area, said Donald Kewley, another relative. It is unknown if the elderly couple didn’t receive or missed one, but some family members are certain it never came.
“There was no evacuation notice,” said Kewley, who lives about two miles away. “Our evacuation was a mile-wide column of smoke rotating toward us.”
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko Saturday said evacuation notices had been given in multiple formats in the area, including reverse-911 robocalls, calls to cell phones of those who had signed up for such emergency alerts and notifications via TV and the federal Integrated Public Alert & Warning System, which broadcasts warnings during emergencies.
Bosenko could not say if authorities had gone door-to-door in the Bledsoes’ area, as they have in other evacuation sites.
He said Thursday night, as the fire unexpectedly and rapidly came into the city, streets were “bumper-to-bumper” with people trying to escape. At one point, Bosenko said, a civilian purposefully hit a sheriff’s vehicle trying to get through an intersection.
“It was very chaotic and people who had waited to the last minute were panicking,” Bosenko said.
In that frenzy of smoke and confusion, Melody, James and Emily sought help.
Carla Bledsoe, another of the kids’ aunts, said the sheriff’s office confirmed that James made a 911 call asking for evacuation aid.
“There was a phone call to the police department, my nephew called scared for help,” said Carla Bledsoe. “But they said they couldn’t make it in time.”
Ed Bledsoe also received a call from those at the house, asking him to hurry because the flames were getting close, he said. But he was stuck in the traffic. He called Carla and asked her to try to reach them, she said.
Along with another relative, Carla Bledsoe managed to talk her way past a police checkpoint and almost made it to the house. But there, she said, fire authorities blocked her.
“We were right down the street from the house and when we made it to the top of the hill they stopped us,” she said. “The house wasn’t burned yet.”
“We told them my niece and nephew was up there,” she said. But they would not let her through, she said, grief and anger cutting into her words.
Kewley said another relative also tried to get to the house, but was forced back because the fire was too intense.
“We watched this whole area just explode,” Kewley said Saturday outside the ruins of the home. “There’s 15-foot-tall flames driving in, he couldn’t get past them and it was too late.”
Ed Bledsoe said he stopped to help another person trapped in the fire.
“I was trying to get through the fire and there was a guy in the fire so I got him out and then I tried to go through,” he said.
While he tried to navigate a path home, he kept his family on the phone.
“I talked to them until the fire got them,” he said. “I was trying to get to them. The fire was just, the whole damn place was nothing but fire.”
Sherry Bledsoe, James and Emily’s mother, was released from the county jail Saturday to be with her family as the news was announced. Carla Bledsoe said she had been incarcerated for about four months.
“My kids are deceased, that’s all I have to say,” said Sherry Bledsoe after she heard the confirmation. “There’s not much to say.”
Hours before her release, two detectives strung red crime scene tape around the perimeter of the Bledsoe home, after social media posts brought attention to the family. With the hissing gas lines and an electrical pole crackling ominously across the street, the area won’t be safe enough for some time for rescue workers to search. Bosenko said the wreckage of the house was still being evaluated for safety, and that an investigation was ongoing.
But for Edward Bledsoe, there are no answers the Sheriff can find that will fix the unfixable.
“I’d give my life for them,” he said. “I just don’t know what I’ve done wrong, I get two little angels like that and I leave them in the damn fire.”