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Death toll from California wildfire grows to five as blaze rages on

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The death toll from a Northern California wildfire rose to five with the discovery of human remains believed to be those of a missing elderly woman and her two great-grandchildren, even as fire crews battled on to quell flames that have devastated entire neighborhoods.

More than 38,000 people remained under evacuation orders on Sunday in and around the city of Redding, about 160 miles (257 km) north of the state capital Sacramento, from a blaze that has destroyed more than 500 buildings and continued to rage largely unchecked into a seventh day.

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The Carr Fire, the deadliest and most destructive of nearly 90 wildfires burning from Texas to Oregon, has charred almost 84,000 acres (34,000 hectares) of drought-parched vegetation since erupting last Monday.

More than 4,000 structures were threatened by the fire, officials said.

The weather on Sunday is expected to offer no relief for firefighters as it will hit more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) with low humidity and gusty winds, the National Weather Service said.

As of Saturday night, an army of some 3,500 firefighting personnel and a squadron of 17 water-dropping helicopters had managed to carve buffer lines around just five percent of the fire’s perimeter.

Fire officials say the erratic behavior of the blaze, stoked by high winds and triple-digit temperatures, has complicated efforts to contain the conflagration.

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At the height of its fury on Thursday night, the fire was whipped into a storm-like frenzy by gale-force winds that drove flames across the Sacramento River into the western end of Redding, as thousands of residents fled for their lives in a chaotic evacuation.

The nearby town of Keswick, with a population of about 450, was reduced to cinders, and two firefighters were killed.

On Saturday, Redding police said they were searching for 17 people still unaccounted for two days afterward.

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FIRE-RAVAGED HOME

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko later confirmed the discovery of three bodies at a fire-ravaged home on the outskirts of Redding.

Bosenko said they had not yet been positively identified but were believed to be remains of three victims identified by relatives in news media reports as 4-year-old James Roberts, his 5-year-old sister Emily and their great-grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, 70.

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The Los Angeles Times reported that Bledsoe’s family said she desperately put a wet blanket over the children as their home burned.

The children’s mother, Sherry Bledsoe, was quoted by the Sacramento Bee as saying, “My kids are deceased, that’s all I can say,” as she left the sheriff’s office on Saturday.

According to the newspaper’s account, Melody Bledsoe’s husband, Ed Bledsoe, wept as he recalled trying to get back to the family’s house after he had left to run an errand on Thursday, only to learn that the fire was closing in on them. He told the newspaper that he spoke to the children on the phone as he raced in vain to return in time to save them.

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“I talked to them until the fire got them,” he was quoted as saying. “I was trying to get to them, I was trying to get to the fire.”

So far this year, wildfires have scorched almost 4.3 million acres (1.7 million hectares) across the country, less than last year but still higher than the 3.7 million-acre (1.5 million-hectare) average for the same period over the last decade. California has been particularly hard hit with several fierce blazes menacing large populated areas.

One of those, the Cranston fire, prompted a rare closure of much of Yosemite National Park last week, while another forced mass evacuations from the mountain resort community of Idyllwild east of Los Angeles.


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Donald Trump’s lurch toward fascism is backfiring spectacularly

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

During the 2016 campaign, as Donald Trump railed against "Mexican rapists" and other "criminal aliens," pollsters found that the share of Americans who said that immigrants worked hard and made a positive contribution to our society increased significantly, and noticed a similar decline in the share who said they take citizens' jobs and burden our social safety net. After Trump was elected and began pursuing his Muslim ban, the share of respondents who held a positive view of Islam also increased pretty dramatically. I'm not aware of any polling of the general public about transgender troops serving in the military before Trump decided to discharge them, but Gallup found that 71 percent of respondents opposed his position after he did.

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Judge blocking release of Jeffrey Epstein records has ties to officials linked to Epstein: report

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On Saturday, the Miami Herald reported that a judge who blocked the release of grand jury material in the Jeffrey Epstein child sex abuse case has ties to three officials with a vested interest in the outcome of the lawsuits surrounding the scandal.

"Krista Marx, the Palm Beach chief judge who also heads a panel that polices judicial conduct, has potential conflicts of interest involving three prominent players embroiled in the Epstein sex-trafficking saga: State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who has been sued by the Palm Beach Post to release the grand jury records; Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, whose department’s favored treatment of Epstein while he was in the Palm Beach County jail is part of an ongoing state criminal investigation; and ex-State Attorney Barry Krischer, part of the same investigation in connection with his decision not to prosecute Epstein on child-sex charges," wrote Julie Brown, a reporter who has extensively covered the Epstein case.

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WATCH: Buffalo cops and firefighters cheer officers charged with assault as they leave the courthouse

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According to a report from both CNN and MSNBC, the two Buffalo police officers who were charged with second-degree assault after shoving a 75-year-old anti-police brutality protester to the ground where he sustained head injuries were greeted with applause after they were arraigned on Saturday morning.

MSNBC's Alex Witt noted that both officers were released without having to post bail.

According to ABC News, "Officers Aaron Torglaski and Robert McCabe were charged with second-degree assault during their video arraignments on Saturday and were released on their own recognizance. They both entered no guilty pleas and are expected back in court on July 20."

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