Six people killed in northern California as wildfire spreads

Some 38,000 remain under evacuation order as authorities search for missing people

California firefighters on Monday were gaining ground on a massive wildfire that has killed six people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, while rescuers searched for at least seven people who were missing.

The Carr Fire ignited a week ago outside Redding, about 240 km north of Sacramento, and doubled in size over the weekend, charring an area the size of Denver and forcing 38,000 people to flee their homes.

Two firefighters, a 70-year-old woman and her two young great-grandchildren are among the dead.

California is bearing the brunt of an extreme run of wildfires across the western US, with erratic winds and record temperatures feeding blazes that have blackened nearly 410,000 acres in the state, the highest year-to-date level in a decade.

“I’ve been a lifelong resident of this community, and I’ve never seen a fire with such destruction here in this area ever before,” Shasta County supervisor Leonard Moty said of the Carr Fire during a press briefing. The blaze is the deadliest of the 90 wildfires burning across the United States.

Collectively, wildfires have scorched 1.8 million hectares of land so far this year, 24 per cent more than the 10-year average for the time period, according to federal data.

Nearly 3,400 firefighters battling the Carr Fire have begun to gain control of it, cutting containment lines around 20 per cent of its perimeter by Monday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Firefighters were struggling to control the fire’s western flank, where terrain is steep and the air thick with smoke, fire officials said. “That’s where we need to fly,” Dominic Polito, of the Escondido Fire Department, said in a telephone interview. “We can still use helicopters, but we can’t use the fixed-wing aircraft.”

Gale-force winds that drove the fire late last week have eased to moderate speeds, but temperatures are again expected to top 37.8 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Nearly 1,000 homes and other buildings have been destroyed by the 155 square mile blaze, Cal Fire said. The fire levelled the town of Keswick, home to 450 people. It also sparked an effort to rescue people’s horses and livestock in the rugged region, a popular fishing destination.

Some 260 National Guard troops and 100 police officers were stationed in evacuated neighbourhoods to guard against looting. Another California fire prompted a closure of much of Yosemite National Park last week, while a third forced mass evacuations from the mountain resort community of Idyllwild, east of Los Angeles. – Reuters