LAKEPORT, Calif. (AP) — A pair of wildfires that prompted evacuation orders for nearly 20,000 people barreled Monday toward small lake towns in Northern California, and authorities faced questions about how quickly they warned residents about the largest and deadliest blaze burning in the state.
Ed Bledsoe told CBS News he did not receive any warning to evacuate his home in the city of Redding before the flames came through last week and killed his wife, Melody, and his great-grandchildren, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts.
“If I’d have any kind of warning, I’d have never, ever left my family in that house,” Bledsoe said.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told the network there’s an investigation into whether the Bledsoe home received a warning call or a knock on the door. The sheriff cited evidence that door-to-door notifications were made in the area. Bosenko did not return a message from The Associated Press on Monday.
The dispute came as authorities on Sunday ordered evacuations around twin fires in Mendocino and Lake counties, including from the 4,700-resident town of Lakeport, a popular destination for bass anglers and boaters on the shores of Clear Lake, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of San Francisco. The blazes have destroyed six homes and threaten 10,000 others. So far, the flames have blackened 87 square miles (225 square kilometers), with minimal containment.
Those fires were among 17 burning across the state, where fire crews were stretched to the limit.
“We have experienced fires the last four years, and so we’re very aware of what can happen with fires and the damage they can cause,” Lake County Sheriff Lt. Corey Paulich said.
Derick Hughes II did not heed the order and remained behind at his property in Nice, California, where he ran sprinklers on his roof and removed yard plants that could catch fire.
The 32-year-old Marine Corps veteran sent his wife and two daughters to safety along with three carloads of belongings. But he said he had too much at stake to leave himself. He bought his three-bedroom house last year using a loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is everything I bled for, and I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am, and I’m just not willing to give it up so easily,” he said over the phone. “Some people may think that’s selfish of me, and I have insurance. But the way things go, I’d rather not start over.”
Hughes said about five of his neighbors also disobeyed the evacuation text alert they got Sunday evening to protect their homes and keep looters out.
Farther north, police said five people were arrested on suspicion of entering areas evacuated due to the explosive wildfire around Redding.
That blaze killed six people and destroyed 723 homes. Authorities were also investigating at least 18 reports of missing people, though many of them may simply have failed to check in with friends or family, police said.
Fire officials were hopeful that they could make progress containing the blaze.
The fire that threatened Redding — a city of about 92,000 — was ignited by a vehicle problem a week ago about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of the city. On Thursday, it swept through the historic Gold Rush town of Shasta and nearby Keswick, fueled by gusty winds and dry vegetation. It then jumped the Sacramento River and took out subdivisions on the western edge of Redding.
“It wasn’t expected to travel that far that fast,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Scott Mclean said Monday.
The fire slowed down as winds subsided, and crews were able to get into neighborhoods to prevent embers from taking out additional homes, he said.
Bledsoe said he did not know his home was in danger when he left his wife and great grandchildren to run an errand on Thursday. He said he received a phone call from his wife 15 minutes after he left saying he needed to get home because the fire was approaching. He said one of the children told him the blaze was at the back door. When he tried to return, the road was blocked and flames prevented him from returning on foot.
The sheriff has said the fire was moving fast, but authorities still alerted residents in a variety of ways, including going door-to-door and using loudspeakers on emergency vehicles.
Authorities also use electronic warning systems, including an emergency alert system that is repeated by local news media and an automated calling system that can be targeted to phones within a geographic area. Another method known as the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System can be directed to any cellphone within reach of a particular transmission tower, said Sherry Bartolo, operations manager for the Shasta County dispatch center.
The drawback of the automated calling system is that it is designed to dial landlines, but cellphone users must register their phones if they are to receive alerts, she said.
The dispatch center put out more than 18 emergency alerts between Thursday evening and midday Friday, Bartolo said.
The center usually has eight dispatchers on duty, but overnight Thursday had at least 12, along with four supervisors and three managers who worked through the night, she said.
A fire official says a Northern California wildfire is now the ninth most destructive in the state’s history.
State fire spokesman Scott McLean says the blaze rampaging in the area of Redding has destroyed 818 homes and 311 outbuildings. Another 165 homes have been damaged by the fire, which also killed two firefighters and four civilians.
More than 27,000 people remain evacuated because of the blaze, which has burned for more than a week. However, another 10,000 were allowed to return home today as fire crews managed to reinforce some containment lines.
The huge blaze is now 23 percent surrounded.
It’s one of three that have burned homes in the north. Seven homes have been torched and more than 10,000 are threatened by a pair of fires in Mendocino and Lake counties.
Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes as a fire caused by a lightning storm burns near Grants Pass, Oregon.
The 39-square mile (101-square kilometer) blaze is moving toward the Rogue River.
The fire in southwest Oregon has caused people to evacuate in the Merlin and Grants Pass areas, but no structures or homes have been lost.
Northern California fire officials have added residents of two towns near Clear Lake to the list of those ordered to evacuate.
The notice was issued Monday for the towns of Kelseyville and Finley and brought the number of people affected by the Mendocino fires to about 18,000.
The fire’s push to the east and north forced evacuees from a shelter that had been set up at Kelseyville High School.
Sixty-three-year-old Michelle Mata says she is already tired and drained and now has to evacuate a second time.
Cal Fire Division Chief Charlie Blankenheim said he expected significant growth as the fire pushed into the Mendocino National Forest.
Derick Hughes II remained at his property in Nice (nees), California, despite mandatory evacuation orders prompted by a wildfire threatening the area.
Hughes said Monday that he is using sprinklers to wet his roof and removing yard plants that could catch fire.
The 32-year-old Marine Corps veteran says he sent his wife and two daughters to safety Sunday along with three carloads of belongings.
Hughes says he and about five of his neighbors chose to protect their homes against fire and looters, despite an evacuation text alert they got Sunday evening.
Lake County officials said Monday about 14,000 people are under evacuation orders. Another 1,000 have been displaced in neighboring Mendocino County.
Two blazes are encroaching on several towns that surround Clear Lake.
An official says at least 14,000 people are under evacuation orders in an area of Northern California that has been hit by deadly wildfires in the past four years.
Another 1,000 people have been displaced in neighboring Mendocino County.
Lake County sheriff’s Lt. Corey Paulich said Monday that two blazes are encroaching on Lakeport, Upper Lake and Nice but have not yet reached heavily populated areas.
Paulich says residents have been heeding evacuation orders because they have seen the destruction caused by past fires.
The impoverished county about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northwest of Sacramento has been hit by several wildfires since 2015 that destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least four people.
Some evacuations orders have been lifted around a Northern California wildfire area near the city of Redding.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said people can return to several neighborhoods in western Redding as of Monday morning.
The huge blaze near Redding has displaced 38,000 from their homes and killed six people.
Fire officials say the deadly blaze has slowed its growth after days of rapid expansion.
The blaze burning for more than a week has scorched 155 square miles (400 square kilometers) and destroyed 723 homes.
It has killed two firefighters and four civilians.
Police say five people have been arrested on suspicion of entering areas of Northern California evacuated due to an explosive wildfire, including a man dressed in camouflage and carrying a loaded handgun.
The Record Searchlight reports Monday that police arrested Mitchell Stuebgen late Saturday in an evacuated zone of Redding, California, where a massive wildfire has displaced 38,000 from their homes and killed six people.
Police say Stuebgen was dressed in camouflage and was carrying a loaded handgun, a billy club, nunchucks and a concealed dagger.
Authorities on Sunday arrested 44-year-old Brian Cordoza and 37-year-old Frank Webber, both of Redding for being in an evacuated zone.
The Sacramento Bee reports that 25-year-old Jade Ball and 19-year-old Jack Fannin, of Redding, were also arrested Sunday after police found what they said was evidence tying them to several burglaries.
A man whose wife and two great-grandchildren were killed by the huge wildfire in Redding, California, says he did not receive any type of warning to evacuate.
Ed Bledsoe tells CBS News he did not know his home was in danger when he left his wife, Melody, and the 4- and 5-year-old children to run an errand on Thursday.
Bledsoe says he received a phone call from his wife 15 minutes later saying he needed to get home because the fire was approaching. He says one of the children told him the fire was at the back door.
Bledsoe says he tried to return but the road was blocked with cars and flames prevented him from returning on foot.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko tells the network there’s an investigation into whether the Bledsoe home received a warning call or a knock on the home’s door. The sheriff says there is evidence that door-to-door notifications were made in the area.
More than 10,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders as two blazes rage 30 miles (50 kilometers) apart in Northern California.
Mendocino County Undersheriff Matthew Kendall says 1,000 people were order to evacuate in his county. The rest are in Lake County, where residents of the town of Lakeport with a population of 5,000 were ordered to leave Sunday night.
The blazes that started Friday are about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Redding, where California’s largest wildfire is burning and has killed six people.
Officials said Monday that 723 homes have been destroyed by that fire, up from a previous count of 657 homes lost.
California fire officials say that blaze grew overnight to 153 square miles (395 square kilometers).
Authorities have arrested two people on suspicion of looting homes that had been evacuated due to an explosive wildfire.
The Sacramento Bee reports that 25-year-old Jade Ball and 19-year-old Jack Fannin, of Redding, were found with what police said was evidence tying them to several burglaries.
The Carr Fire prompted mandatory evacuations for tens of thousands of people in Redding, a city hundreds of miles north of San Francisco. It has destroyed over 650 houses.
Authorities say a homeowner who stayed behind flagged down an officer after he noticed evidence that people had been in his house.
Officers found a nearby home with evidence of a broken-in door and discovered electronic items stacked by the front door. Police say they do not believe the homeowners placed the items like that before evacuating.
Thousands more are fleeing their homes after wildfires surged near a small lake town in Northern California while farther north firefighters made progress in a battle against a deadly blaze.
Crews stretched to their limits across the state are fighting flames that have claimed the lives of two firefighters and six civilians.
Residents of the waterfront town Lakeport fled Sunday after a major flare-up of two fires that combined across Mendocino and Lake counties destroyed at least four homes. Lakeport, home to about 5,000, is around 120 miles north of San Francisco.
To the northeast, a massive fire near Redding slowed for the first time since days of explosive growth.
Meanwhile officials said a second firefighter died fighting a huge blaze to the south near Yosemite National Park.