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The Carr Fire in Shasta County erupted Thursday night into a conflagration that swept over the Sacramento River and into Redding’s city limits, killing one person and sending residents fleeing for their lives as flames spread into neighborhoods of rolling hills in the western part of the city.
“The fire has burned into the west side of Redding,” Scott McLean, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said late Thursday. “Structures are burning.
“The fire is moving so fast that law enforcement is doing evacuations as fast as we can. There have been some injuries to civilians and firefighters.”
Just after 2:30 a.m., Cal Fire issued additional evacuations for all of Shasta Lake City and Summit City, as well as Shasta Dam Visitor Center and all of Shasta Dam Boulevard. This came in addition to the city of Redding issuing evacuation orders for areas west of North Market Street that were north of the Sacramento River, as well as areas south of the river that were west of Overhill Road and Buenaventura Boulevard.
Cal Fire said a private bulldozer operator had been killed during the blaze, but gave no other details late Thursday. The fatality was the second this month reported as firefighters attacked blazes the length of California.
Officials also reported a number of injuries among other firefighters and residents.
“We can confirm that we had additional firefighters and civilian injuries,” Cal Fire Chief Brett Gouvea said at a late-night briefing in Redding. “This fire is making a significant push into the northwest area of Redding...
“This fire is extremely dangerous and moving with no regard to what’s in its path.”
Cal Fire emphasized that the blaze was moving quickly and had burned into neighborhoods around 9 p.m. Thursday after two days of fierce fire activity in the Whiskeytown area west of Redding.
“It’s way too dynamic and burning quickly,” McLean said of the blaze, which had tripled in size in two days to more than 28,000 acres as of Thursday afternoon.“
The fire erupted Monday afternoon after a vehicle malfunction, Cal Fire said, and quickly began to devour tinder-dry grass and brush, consuming more than 28,000 acres before jumping the Sacramento River into the city limits.
More than 1,700 firefighters were battling the blaze Thursday afternoon when it suddenly blew up and marched toward the city.
“Right now they’re doing what they can, they’re trying to make a stand where they can, if possible,” McLean said of firefighters. “It’s extreme. It’s blowing up off and on again.
“It crossed the Sacramento River north of Redding from the reports we got. It’s within the city limits of Redding and it’s in an area of rolling hills, so it’s not house-to-house neighborhoods but it’s burning into Redding and prompting immediate and urgent evacuations.”
The Redding Record-Searchlight reported that Cal Fire had summoned the California National Guard for help, according to dispatchers.
Emergency personnel were reporting on social media that they are stopping structure and containment efforts in north Redding in order to focus on safely evacuating all citizens. A Cal Fire spokesman could only confirm portions of west Redding were under evacuation.
The approaching fire set off a series of emergency evacuations, including at KRCR-TV, which announced during a live broadcast workers were being forced from their station near the Sundial Bridge shortly before 10:30 p.m.
Homes in the Lake Redding Estates neighborhood burned Thursday night. The area of well-kept homes hugs the Sacramento River and sits adjacent to brush-covered hillsides.
“Right now we’re being evacuated,” said anchor Allison Woods. “That’s why we are kind of closing out right now. We are going to leave the station because it is now unsafe to be here.”
The Vibra Hospital in west Redding also was being evacuated, according to the Record-Searchlight. The facility provides long-term, specialized care along with rehabilitation services.
Off Buenaventura Boulevard in the Mary Lake area of west Redding, Kerry Gunsauls and her twin sister Sherry Garbutt were preparing to evacuate. They had their dog and cat in the car, and were waiting to communicate with other family members.
“We thought that it was going to be fine, we’d never seen it go this close,” said Gunsauls, 52. “Then we saw a transformer explode. ... It was really scary.”
The sisters never got a call to evacuate, but saw emergency vehicles coming through and knew it was time to leave. Their family met at real estate business they own, and decided to evacuate together — but they don’t know where to go.
“We’re calling the motels, and they’re all booked,” Gunsauls said.
Just blocks away, fire crews were fighting to save houses that were ablaze.
“Right now, we’re doing structure protection. There’s a house right there that burned down,” U.S. Forest Service Capt. Matt Mason said late Thursday. “So we’re just trying to make sure nothing gets into these other houses.”
Mason said he’s seen about 20 homes burn down in the Mary Lake area alone. He didn’t think the fire would spread to Redding, but said strong evening winds pushed it eastward.
“We weren’t prepared,” he said.
Connor Sutton, a Redding resident who does media relations work for the Sacramento Republic FC and the Sacramento Kings, was among those who were watching the fire and preparing to leave.
“It is an Armageddon-like feel up here,” he said. “Heavy smoke. Gas stations are jam packed. It is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Sutton wasn’t in the evacuation zone, but decided to start packing up in case things got worse in his neighborhood, about two miles south of downtown. Earlier Thursday night, he was in downtown Redding before the flames approached town and described the atmosphere.
“A lot of people (were downtown) coming to watch early on,” he said. “Not thinking it would come to this. At the end, people were rushing out and then it was nearly impossible to get out.”
Giselle Ahlfeld was at the edge of the evacuation area Thursday night — Airpark Drive and Placer Street — waiting for her husband Richard, who stayed at home in Centerville on the outskirts of Redding earlier spreading fire retardant and gathering belongings.
“He said he was driving and we got disconnected,” said Ahlfeld, 58, who drove back to Redding from San Francisco Thursday. “I told him if you don’t come down (now), I’ll walk (to find you). He’s lost his voice, he’s hoarse from all the smoke.”
Ahlfeld eventually made contact with her husband, who was driving into town with the couple’s two poodles. They arranged to meet at a movie theater downtown.
“I can’t believe it,” she said, gesturing down the road where smoke and light from the fire was visible and where she hoped her home was still standing.
“That’s my house down there,” she said, pointing toward the fire.
Residents nearby were driving up to a roadblock trying to get through. But California Highway Patrol Officer Shawn Bainbridge was turning everyone away.
“People just want to get to their homes and get their stuff, of course,” Bainbridge said. “At this point, though, unless there’s an extreme emergency and they’ve got to go help someone who can’t help themselves, we can’t let them in.”
At 9 p.m., fire personnel requested that Redding Electric Utility shut off power to residents of North Redding. Reports on KRCR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Redding, confirmed parts of the city are without power in an effort to prevent electrical equipment from sparking more fires.
Emergency medical vehicles were being stretched thin, and seven calls were backlogged at 9:45 p.m. Thursday, according to scanner traffic from the Shasta County Cal Fire scanner.
“We’re just a little extended, gridlock on Ashby,” an emergency responder said when asked what their unit’s response time was.
A spot fire was reported behind a Walmart near Highway 44, which is located in the east area of Redding, scanner traffic said. Some firefighters were working to save structures in east Redding.
Area residents took to social media to give a glimpse of their feelings of fear as the flames approached the city.
One Twitter user tweeted that her sister and her family had to evacuate due to the fire, which was just five miles from their home, and destroyed the neighborhood next to theirs.
“I’m scared and feel completely out of control — not a thing I can do,” she said.
Another tweeted that evacuations were causing Redding to look “like a zombie outbreak right now.”
Scanner traffic late Thursday included reports that several elderly Redding residents did not have rides to evacuate from their homes, and emergency medical vehicles were being called to help them evacuate.
A utility line that reportedly fell near Swasey Road was causing traffic backups, but dispatchers said response teams were stretched thin and asked that signs be placed near the line to warn drivers.
A new “fully engulfed” structure fire broke out around 10:07 in east Redding, according to scanner traffic. Multiple units from other incidents left their posts to assist with fire suppression efforts, as it is believed to be separate from the Carr fire.
Social media reports said that the area of Keswick Dam and Quartz Hill northwest of the city was fully engulfed in flames, with multiple homes and structures burning and many people trapped and unable to drive out of the area due to congestion.
The order was so immediate that traffic is completely stopped on some roads that lead out of the city. Traffic is completely stopped at North Market Street in both directions “at least up to Lake Blvd,” said Redding Record Searchlight reporter Jenny Espino in a tweet.