The Carr Fire near Redding is now the sixth most destructive blaze in California history, having burned 121,049 acres — nearly 190 square miles — destroyed 1,058 homes and killed at least six people.
The wildfire that erupted July 23 near Whiskeytown in Shasta County was only 35 percent contained as of Wednesday morning and still threatened more than 1,658 structures as it continued to burn west into Trinity County.
“The western edge of the fire continued to challenge crews (Tuesday) evening,” Cal Fire said in its latest update. “Steep terrain, erratic winds and previously unburned fuels are contributing to spot fire potential.”
More than 4,271 firefighting personnel, 369 engines and 17 helicopters are fighting the blaze, which has now burned an area three times the size of Redding’s city limits.
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Despite its size, firefighters have managed over the past several days to halt its advance toward Redding, where the fire jumped the Sacramento River last Thursday night and roared into subdivisions on the western edge of town.
Officials on Wednesday made their most optimistic comments to date about their progress.
“Things are looking good for us,” Cal Fire Deputy Chief Brett Gouvea said. “We still have quite a bit of work to do out on the lines...
“Today is day 10, and just look where we’ve come in the last nine days. Things are coming a lot better. Last week, things were coming terribly.”
One firefighter, a bulldozer driver, a 70-year-old woman and her two great-grandchildren were killed, as well as another adult who had refused to evacuate, authorities say.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said that authorities had received initial reports of 60 people missing but that by Wednesday afternoon all had been accounted for.
“As of this point we have no missing persons outstanding,” Bosenko said, adding that the missing persons hotline that was established has been shut down.
Cal Fire says the blaze was started by the “mechanical failure” of a vehicle but has not released further details.
The most destructive fire in state history was last October’s Tubbs Fire in Sonoma, which destroyed 5,636 structures and killed 22 people as it roared through 36,807 acres.
Across California, more than 13,000 firefighters are battling 16 major blazes that have burned more than 320,000 acres - more than 500 square miles - and 32,000 residents remain evacuated from their homes, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said Wednesday at a briefing at the state Office of Emergency Services.
As a sign of how perilous conditions are, three wildfires erupted in the capital region Wednesday afternoon that forced residents to flee from two rural areas.
Evacuations were ordered in El Dorado County for the Bumper Fire southwest of Diamond Springs, a blaze initially reported at 17 acres, and within minutes authorities ordered evacuations for the Omega Fire near Pilot Hill, where 25 acres were burning.
A third fire, the Sunset Fire northwest of Roseville, had consumed 1,000 acres Wednesday afternoon but there were no immediate reports of evacuations and the blaze was reported at 50 percent containment.
Officials emphasized that fire season is just getting underway and that more destructive blazes can be expected in coming months because of the years-long drought and hotter, drier weather.
“We are routinely now seeing fires reach 100,000 acres several times in one month, in July,” Pimlott said. “So we have a long way to go in this fire season.”
Pimlott said Cal Fire is bringing back seasonal firefighters to help bolster its resources, and officials said firefighters are streaming into California to help from 17 other states, including Maine and Florida.
The California National Guard also is assisting with 1,200 personnel, and National Guard troops from Nevada and New Mexico are assisting on the California fires.
Gov. Jerry Brown cautioned that the fire season California is experiencing is unlike those of past years.
“Some of this is unprecedented, and we’re learning as we go,” Brown said. “But we’re in a new normal, we’re in a drought that will continue...”
Brown said the difference between his first tenure as governor in the 1970s and now is simple: “The biggest change is the fire season lasts so much longer, and the fires are so much bigger,” he said. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
The governor also noted that fire behavior seen so far this year has been extreme, including the so-called fire tornadoes spotted in the Carr Fire that were spawned by the intense heat of the blaze creating its own weather patterns.
“No one expected fire tornadoes,” Brown said.