REDDING, CALIF. - A fire official says an explosive wildfire in Northern California has killed a bulldozer operator as he fought to contain the blaze and injured three firefighters.
Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean says the Carr Fire in Shasta County burned over the bulldozer operator, who was hired privately, and his equipment. He says the man’s body was found late Thursday.
McLean said flames blew through the communities of Shasta and Keswick before jumping the Sacramento River and reaching Redding, a city of about 92,000 people — the largest in the region.
He said many people in Redding didn't seem prepared for the blaze to reach their city.
“When it hit, people were really scrambling,” he said. “There was not much of a warning.”
Traffic out of the city was backed up, with drives that normally take 20 minutes reaching 2½ hours as residents fled to safety, he said.
McLean said an unknown number of firefighters and civilians were injured. He didn’t know the seriousness.
?Flames jumping fire lines
Firefighters tried in vain to build containment around the blaze Thursday but flames kept jumping their lines, McLean said.
“It’s just a heck of a fight,” he said. “They’re doing what they can do and they get pushed out in a lot of cases. We’re fighting the fight right now.”
The 45-square-mile (115-square-kilometer) Carr Fire that began Monday tripled in size overnight Thursday amid scorching temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions.
Boats burn on a lake
Earlier in the day with flames exploding around Whiskeytown Lake, an effort to save boats at a marina by untying them from moorings and pushing them to safety, wasn’t swift enough to spare them all.
Dozens of charred, twisted and melted boats were among the losses at Oak Bottom Marina.
“The only buildings left standing ... right now are the fire station and a couple of restrooms,” said Fire Chief Mike Hebrard of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “The boat docks down there — all the way out in the water — 30 to 40 boats caught fire when the fire laid down on top of them last night and burned those up.”
?Parks workers save artifacts
In the historic Gold Rush-era town of Shasta, state parks employees worked through the early morning to rescue artifacts from a museum as the blaze advanced.
Matt Teague, an acting district superintendent for state parks, drove an hour and half in the middle of the night to help employees of the park and volunteers rescue historic paintings, prints and other artifacts from the museum housed in the 1861 courthouse.
The fire’s faint glow was visible when he arrived at 3 a.m. and it kept getting brighter, he said.
Just before dawn, the flames had gotten close enough that they were about to evacuate when the fire changed direction and began burning to the north, he said.
That bought them five more hours to collect the most precious items until late morning when it became too dangerous and they were told they had to leave.
“We were on our toes the whole time, to be honest with you,” Teague said. “We didn’t get everything. We didn’t have time.”
Fire burn throughout California
Wildfires throughout the state have burned through tinder-dry brush and forest, forced thousands to evacuate homes and forced campers to pack up their tents at the height of summer. Gov. Jerry Brown declared states of emergency for the three largest fires, which will authorize the state to rally resources to local governments.
A huge forest fire continued to grow outside Yosemite National Park. About 100 homes were still under threat in the San Francisco Bay community of Clayton, although firefighters had stopped the progress of a small fire there after one house burned.
Hundreds of miles to the south, winds picked up and sent flames rushing downhill on the flanks of Southern California’s Mount San Jacinto.
Helicopters making water drops and air tankers pouring red flame retardant circled overhead as flames burned both sides of the main road leading to the scenic town of Idyllwild.
The blaze erupted Wednesday and quickly turned into a wall of flame that torched timber and dry brush. In a matter of hours, the so-called Cranston Fire grew to 7.5 square miles (19 square kilometers).
About 3,000 residents were under evacuation orders Thursday in Idyllwild and several neighboring communities.