REDDING, Calif. – A private hire bulldozer operator died Thursday while battling the fire burning in the Northern California city of Redding.
The operator, who has not been identified, is the state’s second fire-related death in recent weeks.
Residents of Redding fled their homes Friday morning as towering flames from an out-of-control wildfire swept into the western city limits and destroyed residences, authorities reported.
The Carr Fire in Shasta County grew rapidly Thursday night, ravaging several small communities and jumping the Sacramento River before threatening the outskirts of Redding, a city of about 95,000 people around 120 miles south of the California-Oregon border, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, reported.
The fire has destroyed at least 15 structures so far, but that number is expected to rise significantly Friday, Scott McLean, spokesman for Cal Fire, told CNN. One person died and three firefighters have been injured.
“This fire is extremely dangerous and is moving with no regard to what’s on its path,” Cal Fire incident commander Chief Brett Gouvea told reporters.
The blaze has burned 28,763 acres and is only 6% contained, Cal Fire said. Firefighters face a difficult task with dry conditions and temperatures expected to reach 110 F on Friday.
The mechanical failure of a vehicle is believed to have ignited the blaze on Monday, fire officials said.
Hundreds of firefighters battling the blaze
Braden Varney, 36, a heavy fire equipment operator, was killed last weekend while battling another blaze near Yosemite National Park.
“As we mourn the loss, we also battle a fire that is moving extremely quickly and erratically into western Redding,” Gouvea said.
At least three other firefighters have been injured, but the extent of their injuries is unknown, McLean said.
Two hundred California National Guardsmen have been brought in to help firefighters, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma of the National Guard.
More than 1,700 firefighters have been trying to control the blaze since it broke out Monday, but hot and windy conditions continue fueling it, officials said.
“The fire is creating a huge wind vacuum and moving very rapidly toward west Redding. This fire is out of control!” the California Highway Patrol said in a Facebook post Thursday night urging residents to evacuate.
Flames have consumed trees, houses and historic buildings in Shasta County for days and temporarily closed traffic along Highway 299.
KRCR, a Redding TV station and CNN affiliate, interrupted its newscast and evacuated its facility Thursday night as the fire approached.
“Right now we are being evacuated, that’s why we are kind of closing out right now,” said news anchor Allison Woods during a live broadcast. “We are going to leave the station because (it) is now unsafe to be here.”
Babies evacuated from hospital
At least five babies are being evacuated from the neonatal intensive care unit at Mercy Medical Center due to the fire, hospital spokesman Rick Plummer said.
Some babies are being airlifted to hospitals in Sacramento, while others are being transferred in ambulances.
The hospital is not under a mandatory evacuation order, but the infants are being evacuated because of the time and intense resources needed to relocate them.
Medics and hospital staff have been affected by the fire as well.
“Several staff members have evacuated their own homes, then returned to care for patients,” Plummer said. “Several members have lost their homes.”
Hospital staff is preparing to evacuate the facility if needed, a Cal Fire spokesman said.
California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday for Riverside and Shasta counties in response to fires.
More than 80 wildfires in the US
The Carr Fire is among 88 active large fires scorching the country and one of six large wildfires in California, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
Elsewhere in California, the Ferguson Fire has prompted the closure of the most iconic areas of Yosemite National Park until Sunday, killed one person and injured several firefighters.
The blaze, which is raging west of the park, has burned 44,223 acres and is 27% contained, the US Forest Service said.
A massive wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest, known as the Cranston Fire, prompted thousands to flee their homes and led to the arrest of a man.
Brandon N. McGlover, 32, of Temecula was detained Wednesday and is facing five counts of arson to wildland, the Riverside County Fire Department and Cal Fire said.
Authorities said they believe McGlover started not only the Cranston Fire but other fires in the region as well.
More than 1,000 firefighters are battling that blaze, which has scorched 7,500 acres and is only 5% contained.
The fire, which is about 5 miles southwest of Palm Springs, has led to the evacuation of the town of Idyllwild and other communities.
The area around Idyllwild was the site of a massive wildfire in July 2013 that burned more than 27,000 acres.