REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) – Police searched on Tuesday for 16 people missing from one of the most destructive wildfires in California history, and firefighters took advantage of calmer winds to make progress in carving out buffers against the blaze.
Six people have been confirmed killed since Thursday. Nearly 900 homes and 300 other buildings were reduced to ash and nearly 40,000 people forced to evacuate as the Carr fire consumed 110,000 acres (45,000 hectares) of mountainous terrain near the city of Redding, in the northern part of the state.
Sixteen people were considered missing on Tuesday, said Redding police Sergeant Todd Cogle, which was up from a count of seven on Monday. The number of people whose whereabouts are unknown has fluctuated, and at one point the list had 26 names, said Cogle, who is supervising a missing persons hotline.
By Tuesday morning, some 3,600 firefighters had carved buffer lines around 27 percent of the fire’s perimeter, up from just 5 percent during much of the past week, thanks to calmer winds in the area. Evacuated residents of one area of Redding subdivision north of the Sacramento River were allowed to return to their homes on Tuesday.
The blaze, the seventh most destructive in California history, roared without warning into Redding and adjacent communities last week after being whipped by gale-force winds into a firestorm that jumped the Sacramento River.
It is the biggest of 17 wildfires now raging across the state, fueled by drought-parched vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and unpredictable winds.
Two firefighters and at least four civilians were killed, including two young children and their great-grandmother, who perished while huddled under a wet blanket.
Whole neighborhoods, including the town of Keswick on the outskirts of Redding, were laid to waste as residents fled for their lives in a chaotic evacuation.
To the southwest, the River and Ranch wildfires, which are known as the Mendocino Complex fires, has destroyed a combined 74,400 acres (30,1110 hectares) of land and forced thousands to evacuate as it has threatened more than 12,000 homes. About 2,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, about 150 miles (240 km) north of San Francisco, where it has destroyed seven homes since it began on Friday, fire officials said.
Collectively, wildfires that have burned mostly in the U.S. West have scorched 4.6 million acres (1.9 million hectares) so far this year, 24 percent more than the average tallied for the same period over the past decade, according to federal data.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis