REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) – California firefighters on Monday were gaining ground on a massive blaze that has killed six people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, while rescuers searched for seven people unaccounted for in the wildfire.
The Carr Fire, outside Redding, California, ignited a week ago and doubled in size over the weekend, charring an area the size of Detroit, forcing 38,000 people to flee their homes and claiming lives of two firefighters and another person, as well as a woman and her two young great-grandchildren.
Centered 150 miles (240 km) north of Sacramento, it is the deadliest of the 90 wildfires burning across the United States. Collectively, wildfires have blackened 4.4 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of land so far this year, 21 percent more than the 10-year average for the time period, according to federal data.
The more than 3,000 firefighters battling the Carr Fire began to turn the tables by Sunday afternoon, cutting containment lines around 17 percent of its perimeter, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Previously the fire was just 5 percent contained.
Gale-force winds that drove the fire late last week have eased to moderate speeds, but temperatures are again expected to top 100 Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service.
Firefighting officials on Sunday also said they would begin to return people to their homes as soon as possible.
The fire grew rapidly beginning on Thursday, confounding fire officials with the speed of its movement.
“Unfortunately this new normal is kind of upon us in California,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox said on CBS This Morning. “More deadly, more destructive fires, more often and it’s obviously requiring additional resources.”
At least 874 buildings have been destroyed by the 95,000-acre blaze, Cal Fire said. The fire leveled the town of Keswick, home to 450 people. It also sparked an effort to rescue people’s horses and livestock in the rugged region, a popular fishing destination.
Some 260 National Guard troops and 100 police officers were stationed in evacuated neighborhoods to guard against looting, and the Shasta County Sheriff’s office said two people had been arrested over the weekend for looting.
Another California fire prompted a rare closure of much of Yosemite National Park last week, while a third forced mass evacuations from the mountain resort community of Idyllwild, east of Los Angeles.
(Reporting by Bob Strong, additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)