By Rollo Ross
REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) – Assisted by calmer winds at their backs, firefighters in northern California on Tuesday tightened their grip on a deadly blaze raging for more than a week around the city of Redding, as 16 people listed as missing turned up safe.
Four others reported missing in the sprawling fire zone, 160 miles (260 km) north of the state capital Sacramento, remained unaccounted for, said Redding police Sergeant Todd Cogle, who has overseen efforts to find them.
The Carr Fire has claimed six confirmed fatalities since gale-force winds whipped the blaze into a flaming cyclone that jumped a river and roared with little warning into Redding and adjacent communities in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region on Thursday night.
Whole neighborhoods were laid to waste as residents fled for their lives, many with only their pets and few belongings.
Among the dead were two firefighters, as well as two young children who perished with their great-grandmother as they huddled under a wet blanket while their house went up in smoke. Also killed was a man who stayed at his home despite an evacuation order. Authorities said his remains were later found in the rubble of the house, which burned to the ground.
Nearly 1,000 dwellings and more than 400 other buildings were reduced to ruins in what state officials now rank as the seventh most destructive wildfire in California history.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) listed the cause of the blaze, which erupted last Monday, as the “mechanical failure of a vehicle.”
SEARCH FOR MISSING NARROWS
As of Tuesday afternoon, five days after the Redding fire storm, police were still trying to account for 20 people reported missing by family or friends.
Discovering most homes of those in question had been spared from the fire, frustrated police took the unusual step of publicizing the names of the missing, Cogle said.
Within hours 16 of them, previously unaware they were being sought, were located when they saw their names on television or the internet and contacted authorities, he told Reuters.
“It speaks to the power of the media,” Cogle said.
Meanwhile, some 4,100 firefighters gained significant additional ground, helped by a second day of diminished winds.
CalFire reported 30 percent of the blaze’s perimeter corralled by containment lines by late Tuesday, up from 5 percent during much of the past week, even as the footprint of scorched landscape grew to almost 113,000 acres (46,000 hectares).
Some evacuees have been allowed to return home, though as many as 37,000 remained displaced.
Lighter winds also gave a boost to firefighters battling a pair of fires at the southern end of Mendocino National Forest, where some 12,200 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.
Those blazes, dubbed the Ranch and River fires, have charred more than 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares), with containment measured at 12 percent for the two together.
The Carr Fire stood as the most formidable of 94 wildfires burning across 13 U.S. Western states, from Texas to Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
California, with 17 large active blazes reported, has been one of the hardest hit, with a volatile mix of triple digit-temperatures, erratic winds and drought-parched vegetation fueling intense wildfire activity.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Chris Reese, Toni Reinhold and Michael Perry)