By Nicole Chavez and Paul Vercammen, CNN
CALIFORNIA – A frantic search is underway for woman and two young children who went missing this week as a deadly wildfire reached the Northern California city of Redding, turning homes into ash piles and forcing thousands of people to flee.
“Honey, you should come home quick. The fire’s getting close,” Melody Bledsoe told her husband over the phone Thursday night when she spotted the erratic flames of the Carr Fire from her home, a relative told CNN.
Family members are now searching for Bledsoe and her great-grandchildren, 5-year-old Emily and 4-year-old James, in area shelters and hospitals, hoping to find them among the 38,000 people who have fled the danger in Shasta County, the children’s aunt, Shelley Hoskison, said.
The Carr Fire has burned through 48,312 acres, destroying at least 500 structures and threatening thousands more, figures released by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, show.
“This fire is scary to us. This is something we haven’t seen before in the city,” Redding Police Chief Roger Moore told reporters Friday night. “It’s changing direction radically.”
The blaze is continuing its chaotic path Saturday west of Redding, prompting more evacuations.
“Time to go Igo. The fire is coming down muletown ready to hit placer,” the Igo Ono Fire Department posted on Facebook, referring to local roads. “Time to go now. Leave Igo take your pets time to go.”
More than 3,410 fire personnel are battling the blaze with more than 300 engines and 17 helicopters, Cal Fire reported, as tall smoke plumes turn the sky an eerie orange-brown hue.
The fire began Monday when a vehicle suffered mechanical failure. Firefighters had been making progress containing it until Thursday night, when it doubled in size.
It was only 5% contained, officials said Friday night.
Death toll rises
At least two people have died fighting the fire, and several others have been hurt.
Jeremy Stoke, a fire inspector with the Redding Fire Department, died Thursday, the Redding firefighters union said.
“Jeremy died while battling the Carr Fire,” the union posted on Twitter. “We ask for your thoughts and prayers for his family and the RFD as we process this tragic loss.”
A private-hire bulldozer operator, who was not identified, also died Thursday while battling the fire.
More details about the fatal incidents have not made public.
Three Marin County firefighters were treated for burns to the ears, hands and face after they encountered a “sudden blast of heat” from burning vegetation. Engineer Scott Pederson and firefighters Tyler Barnes and Brian Cardoza have been released from a hospital, the fire department said Friday in a news release.
A fourth firefighter was being evaluated at the UC Davis Burn Center, the news release said.
Eight people were treated for respiratory and burn-related injuries at Mercy Medical Center in Redding, a hospital spokeswoman said Friday morning.
‘I can’t believe it’s gone’
The fire forced many residents to gather belongings and escape in just minutes.
“We didn’t think the fire was going to come here, so we didn’t really take things out like everyone else that was scrambling at the last minute to get out when we saw fire on the ridge,” Dominic Galvin said.
A resident of French Gulch, west of Redding, said she had two hours to evacuate, but some people had only 30 minutes.
“It’s terrifying,” Rachel Hines told CNN affiliate KRCR. “You’re frightened a little bit because you don’t know if you’re going to come back to your house and the town is going to be different.”
Chris Corona went to his parents’ home to look for their cat, Jinx. The home was gone, but Jinx was there, safely hiding in a bush on a hillside untouched by the flames that killed all the other vegetation.
Corona wept as he thought of things they lost in the house.
“I can’t believe it’s gone. All those memories, childhood memories,” he said. “Stuff that parents save, like stuff you built as a little kid for your mom. I’m just glad my mom got all the valuable stuff that she wanted out.”