Carr Fire more than doubles in size near Redding, California

The Carr Fire burns along Highway 299 in Redding Calif. on Thursday

A wildfire that roared with little warning into a Northern California city claimed two lives as thousands of people scrambled to escape before the walls of flames descended from forested hills onto their neighborhoods, officials said Friday.

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The husband of Melody Bledsoe, who died trying to protect her great-grandchildren, 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.

The Campbells' home of five years is among at least 500 structures that officials say were destroyed by the fire, which also swept through the historic Gold Rush town of Shasta and hit homes in Redding, a city of 92,000 about 100 miles south of the OR border.

The erratic flames are blamed for seven deaths, including 70-year-old Melody Bledsoe and her great-grandchildren, 4-year-old Emily Roberts and 5-year-old James Roberts.

A destroyed auto is seen among the ruins of a burned neighborhood after the Carr Fire passed through the area of Lake Keswick Estates near Redding, Calif., on July 28.

Firefighters discuss plans while battling the Carr Fire in Shasta Calif. on Thursday
Firefighters discuss plans while battling the Carr Fire in Shasta Calif. on Thursday

"Grandma did everything she could to save them she was hovered over them both with a wet blanket", Woodley said in a Facebook post.

She expected to spend Saturday night at a shelter at Simpson College in Redding while she searches for another place to live.

The family said authorities told them the boy had called 911 from the house, relatives told the San Francisco Chronicle. Family friend Jason Decker told CNN affiliate KGO that Bledsoe was found "draped over the children".

"My babies are dead", Sherry Bledsoe said through tears after she and family members met Saturday with sheriff's deputies. It said the elderly couple had been caring for the great grandchildren for years in their rental home.

Journalists at the Record Searchlight newspaper tweeted about continuing to report on the fire without electricity in their newsroom, and a reporter at nearby KHSL television wrote on Twitter that the station's Redding reporters were "running home to gather their things".

The so-called Carr Fire that affected Redding - a city of about 92,000 people - was ignited by a vehicle problem on Monday about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of the city.

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He was the second bulldozer operator to die in a California blaze in less than two weeks.

Two firefighters had already been killed by the fire, Redding fire inspector Jeremy Stoke and a bulldozer operator whose name wasn't immediately released. 7 other people remain missing.

The explosive blaze reached the city of Redding on Thursday night.

A firefighter walks along a containment line while battling a wildfire Saturday, July 28, 2018, in Redding, California.

A 32-year-old man has been arrested and charged with 15 arson counts, though it is still unclear if he started the Carr fire.

Cal Fire expects the fire to accelerate around 1 p.m. on Saturday, based on weather forecasts.

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About 12,000 firefighters were battling 17 significant fires Sunday in California, she said.

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.

Four evacuation centers have been opened in the area.

The fire, which created at least two flaming tornados that toppled trees, shook firefighting equipment and busted truck windows, took "down everything in its path", said Scott McLean, a spokesman for Cal Fire, the state agency responsible for fighting wildfires.

Firefighters are getting no relief from the weather.

"However, the possibility does exist that there may be far more grave situations for some of them", Cogle said.

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