Firefighter, dozer operator dead as wildfire rips through Calif. town

The Carr Fire exploded in intensity after it jumped the Sacramento River, killing one firefighter and a private bulldozer operator and forcing residents to flee

Duty Death: Jeremy Stokes - [Redding, California]


UPDATE: (3:11 p.m. CST) -

REDDING, Calif. — Officials announced that Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke was the firefighter who died while battling the Carr Fire. 

EARLIER: 

Alene Tchekmedyian and Joseph Serna
Los Angeles Times

REDDING, Calif. — A destructive wildfire in far Northern California nearly doubled in size overnight, killing at least two people — including a city firefighter — and burning numerous homes in Redding as residents ran for their lives and firefighters found it impossible to battle the wall of flames.

The Carr fire has destroyed 65 homes and damaged 55 others, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday, Those numbers are expected to rise.

Firefighters discuss plans while battling the Carr Fire in Shasta, Calif., on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Firefighters discuss plans while battling the Carr Fire in Shasta, Calif., on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The blaze, driven east by 30 mph winds, hopscotched into subdivisions Thursday night and Friday morning. Officials said hundreds of homes were threatened as winds pushed the fire into the community.

It was a chaotic scene across Redding, a city of 90,000 people about 100 miles from the Oregon border, as towering flames whipped along the horizon and evacuation orders expanded by the hour in the middle of the night.

Rick Plummer, director of marketing for Dignity Health’s Mercy Medical Center in Redding, said he left the Carr fire command post about 11 p.m. Thursday and arrived home to find a wall of flames a half-mile away and closing in. He was told to pack up and leave and spent the night on an air mattress in his office, he said. It was the first time he’s experienced an evacuation order.

“You hear about it and people that have gone through it, but until you’ve gone through it yourself, I don’t think you can 100% appreciate walking through your home and deciding what to take and what not to take,” Plummer said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I started packing my jeep up with things I can’t replace.”

Plummer said he watched doctors, nurses and hospital administrators work through the night even as they got word their own homes had burned.

A car passes through flames on Highway 299 as the Carr Fire burns through Shasta, Calif., Thursday, July 26, 2018. Fueled by high temperatures, wind and low humidity, the blaze destroyed multiple homes and at least one historic building. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A car passes through flames on Highway 299 as the Carr Fire burns through Shasta, Calif., Thursday, July 26, 2018. Fueled by high temperatures, wind and low humidity, the blaze destroyed multiple homes and at least one historic building. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Residents had little warning before the flames moved in. Officials said some civilians and firefighters were injured, but few details were provided.

“This fire is extremely dangerous and moving with no regard for what’s in its path,” said incident Cmdr. Bret Gouvea with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

 

LIVE IMAGES: These are live pictures of #Redding, where a second firefighter has just died battling the #CarrFire. https://tinyurl.com/ybxo3zfc

Posted by KRON 4 News on Friday, July 27, 2018

The blaze had grown to 44,450 acres and was 3% contained Friday morning, Cal Fire said.

The fire made a serious push toward homes on Wednesday night, when winds steered it down to the edge of Whiskeytown Lake. A second night of dry, powerful winds pushed flames over the Sacramento River into western Redding and north toward the city of Shasta Lake.

Mercy Medical Center has spent the last day preparing to evacuate, Plummer said. Five babies in the neonatal intensive care unit were taken to hospitals in Davis and Sacramento as a precaution, and strike teams of ambulances are on standby.

As of Friday morning, the hospital was still open and treating patients. Several civilians and firefighters were treated for burns there Thursday night, Plummer said.

A Redding television station, KRCR, cut off its live coverage so anchors and other employees could evacuate the studio.

“The fire is extremely active tonight,” Cal Fire Capt. John Clingingsmith Jr. said Thursday.

Residents also reported sporadic power outages, including at the Redding Record Searchlight newspaper, as well as jammed roads as people streamed out of the fire zone.

“It’s crazy. It’s out of control,” California Highway Patrol Sgt. Tim Hinkson said in a Facebook video as he evacuated residents Thursday.

 

 

Posted by CHP - Redding on Thursday, July 26, 2018

A private bulldozer operator, who was not named, was killed late Thursday as the fire grew and roared toward Redding. It was the second firefighting death in California in recent weeks. Braden Varney, a bulldozer operator with Cal Fire, died fighting the Ferguson fire near Yosemite.

On Friday, authorities announced another firefighter was killed battling the Redding blaze.

“As we mourn the loss, we also battle a fire that is moving extremely quickly and erratically into western Redding,” Gouvea said, adding that other firefighters and civilians have been injured.

The devastation in Redding extends a grim period of fires in California. Last fall, Northern California’s wine country was hit by the most destructive fires on record, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens of residents. In December, the Thomas fire tore through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, becoming the largest single fire in state history.

Officials said there was little firefighters could do as the Carr fire swept into Redding amid triple-digit temperatures and strong winds.

“Structures are burning,” Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean told the Sacramento Bee late Thursday. “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.”

As fire activity increased early Friday morning, authorities expanded evacuation orders to include the following areas:

  • The Shasta Dam Visitor Center
  • All of Shasta Dam Boulevard
  • All of the city of Shasta Lake and Summit City
  • Pine Grove Avenue north on Lake Boulevard to Shasta Dam, incorporating Summit City, North Belt Line and Flannigan Road
  • Intersection of Placer Road and Buenaventura Boulevard, west to Thompson Lane
  • Buenaventura Boulevard from Placer Road to Westside Road
  • Westside Road to Keyon Drive, incorporating County Heights and the West Redding neighborhood
  • Buenaventura Boulevard to State Route 299 to Placer Road
  • Placer Road from Buenaventura Boulevard to Placer Road
  • Cloverdale Road from Placer Road to Clear Creek Road
  • Clear Creek Road west from Cloverdale Road to Honey Bee Road
  • North of Sacramento River to Keswick Dam Road, west of Market Street and Lake Boulevard to Keswick Dam
  • North at Lake Boulevard and Oasis Road to Pine Grove Avenue and Walker Mine Road, west of Cascade Road and Interstate 5
  • South along Swasey Drive from State Route 299 to Placer Road
  • West along Placer Road from Swasey to Prospect Drive
  • North from Prospect Drive to encompass Middle Park Ranch Land area
  • West of Overhill Drive and north of State Route 299
  • North of State Route 299 and west of Spinmaker Road to the end of Harlan Drive
  • Keswick Dam east to Counter Lane and north to Quartz Hill Road

An evacuation center at Shasta High School was closed and a new one was opened at Shasta College at 11555 Old Oregon Trail. Additional centers were opened at Weaverville Elementary School at 32010 State Route 3 in Weaverville, and Cross Point Community Church at 2960 Hartnell Ave. in Redding.

Rolling Hills Casino, south of Redding in Corning, said on Facebook that it had opened its facilities to people displaced by the fire, as well as their pets.

Firefighting efforts were hampered Thursday by extreme fire behavior, dry weather and high temperatures. It’s unclear whether the destroyed structures were homes, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Five other structures were damaged.

Crews scrambled when a shift in the winds pushed the Carr fire three miles east in four hours, catching residents in Whiskeytown on their heels. The fire, which broke out Monday afternoon, was only 6% contained Thursday night, but by Friday morning the burn area had nearly doubled and the containment had shrunk to 3%.

The blaze reached the edge of Whiskeytown Lake, where local news outlets reported that 40 boats were burned, along with a number of homes.

Authorities placed 192 homes under mandatory evacuation orders, most of those in Whiskeytown and the community of French Gulch, Cal Fire said.

The blaze has been running along the north side of Highway 299 since a vehicle malfunction sparked it. More than 1,700 firefighters were battling the blaze.

The Carr fire is the most destructive of several major blazes burning around the state. In Riverside County, the Cranston fire — easily spotted by the billowy plumes of smoke expanding into the sky — had burned 7,500 acres and was 5% contained Thursday night. At least five homes have been lost in that fire.

Near Yosemite, the Ferguson fire continues to burn in wilderness areas.

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©2018 the Los Angeles Times

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