REDDING (CBS News) — The death toll is rising as wildfires force tens of thousands of evacuations in Northern California. The so-called, about 150 miles north of Sacramento, has grown to nearly 150 square miles and is only 17 percent contained.
The fire has killed six people, including three from one family: 70-year-old Melody Bledsoe and her two great-grandchildren. They died when the Carr Fire, one of nine major wildfires burning across California, engulfed their home.
“I was only gone about 15 minutes when my wife called and said, ‘You gotta get here. The fire’s coming up the hill,'” husband Ed Bledsoe told CBS News correspondent Carter Evans.
Bledsoe said he had no idea his home was in danger when he left his wife with their two great-grandchildren, ages four and five, to run an errand.
“I was talking to my little grandson on the phone, he was saying, ‘Grandpa, please, you gotta come and help us, the fire’s at the back door,'” Bledsoe said, choking up. “I said, ‘I’m right by you, honey, just hold on, grandpa’s coming.'”
But he said the road was blocked with cars and the flames stopped him from returning on foot.
“I would’ve died right there with them. They’re that important to me,” Bledsoe said.
He told CBS Sacramento that his wife wrapped the children in wet blankets.
“She wet a bunch of blankets and put them down at the side of the bed. She got a wet blanket and put one on her. Got over the top of them, and they lay there until the fire took them,” Bledsoe said.
Fire officials near Redding expanded their evacuation orders Sunday. More than 38,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since Thursday. Officials say the fire is now threatening communities outside of Redding. A time lapse video showed the fire’s intensity, creating winds strong enough to uproot trees. Bledsoe’s home is one of more than 850 structures that have been destroyed.
“Did you get any sort of evacuation warning?” Evans asked.
“Nothing. Absolutely not a word,” Bledsoe said, adding, “Nobody told us nothing. If I’d have any kind of warning, I’d have never ever left my family in that house.”
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said his department did tell people living in Redding to evacuate. They’re investigating to see if the Bledsoe home got a warning call or a door-knock.
“In the areas both before the Bledsoe home and after the Bledsoe home, there was evidence that notifications were made for the door-to-door notifications,” Bosenko said.
Officials said one of the people who was killed ignored evacuation orders. While some evacuees are now being allowed back into Redding, law enforcement is fighting another problem: looting. Three have been arrested, including one man police said was wearing camouflage and carrying a loaded gun.