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Homes levelled by the Carr fire in Redding. Photograph: AP

California wildfires: nine missing and two firefighters killed

WT24 Desk

Nine people were reportedly missing as wildfires in northern California that have killed two firefighters, destroyed hundreds of buildings and forced thousands of residents to flee their homes burned out of control on Saturday,Reuters reports.

About 3,400 firefighters on the ground and in helicopters and planes battled the 48,300-acre (19,500-hectare) Carr fire as it engulfed Redding, a town of 90,000 people in California’s Shasta-Trinity area.

More than 38,000 residents in Redding and elsewhere in Shasta county fled their homes as the fire gained speed and intensity on Thursday, destroying 500 buildings and leaving Keswick, a village of 450, in smouldering ruins, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said.

The fire, which was just 3% contained after six days, has been fed by high temperatures and low humidity – conditions expected to continue for at least the next week. CalFire director Ken Pimlott said: “This fire is a long way from done.”

A bulldozer operator and a member of the Redding fire department were killed in the blaze. A Redding hospital said it had treated eight people, including three firefighters.

Nine people, including a woman and her two great-great-grandchildren, were missing, police said. The woman’s husband, Ed Bledsoe, told a TV channel that he left them at home to run an errand on Thursday night.

“He called and said, ‘Grandpa you need to come, the fire is coming at our house now,’” Bledsoe said of a phone call he had with his great-great-grandson while he was gone. “I can’t see how I can go on without them.”

The flames jumped across the Sacramento river on Thursday and swept into the western side of Redding, about 150 miles (240 km) north of Sacramento, before gale-force winds during the night created a fire “tornado”, officials said.

Firefighters and police were going door to door to tell residents to evacuate, they said. California has had its worst start to the fire season in a decade, with 289,727 acres burned by Friday morning, according to National Interagency Fire Center data.

The governor of California, Jerry Brown, requested emergency federal assistance to prevent an “imminent catastrophe” as Shasta county tried to find supplies and water for evacuated residents and care for horses and cattle rescued from ranches and farms.

Wildfires have burned an estimated 4.15 million acres in the US this year. That is well above average for the same period over the past 10 years, but down from 5.27 million acres in the first seven months of 2017, the fire centre said.

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