At least 19 people were still reported missing in Shasta County, California, officials said at a community meeting Monday evening, after shifting winds, dry fuel and steep terrain helped the monstrous fire engulf more than 103,000 acres.
Sixteen people had been reported missing, but nine of those were found safe, according to Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, who spoke at a Sunday news conference.
Redding Police Sgt. Todd Cogle said, “We’re finding that there are a lot of communication issues” making it hard to locate residents.
“We spoke with several people who left their cell phones at their residences and in this day and age people don’t remember people’s phone numbers,” Cogle said.
The fire, which started a week ago, has burned 103,772 acres and is just 23% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire. It has scorched an area bigger than the size of Denver.
High temperatures, low humidity and increased winds are all in the forecast, setting the stage for more explosive fire behavior, Chris Harvey with the Cal Fire Incident Management Team said Sunday.
The blaze doubled in size Saturday. Flames have destroyed 517 structures in the Redding area, Cal Fire said.
The erratic flames are blamed for six deaths, including 70-year-old Melody Bledsoe and her great-grandchildren, 4-year-old Emily Roberts and 5-year-old James Roberts.
The three had been missing since Thursday when their house was overcome by flames. Family members confirmed Saturday that they died.
“With a heavy heart we are sad to inform you all that Mel and the great-grandbabies were confirmed to be in the home,” the family said on a GoFundMe page.
Another person was found dead after a fire consumed another house, Bosenko said Sunday.
More than 3,000 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, officials said. Firefighters had been making progress containing it until Thursday night, when it doubled in size.
Death toll rises
At least two people 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.