Ed Bledsoe had just left to run an errand when he received a phone call. It was his wife, who was at home with their two great-grandchildren.
Come back, she told him, because the fire was closing in on their home. On the phone with him as he rushed back home was his 5-year-old great-grandson, who pleaded with him to hurry.
“He just kept saying, ‘Grandpa,’ he said, ‘Come get me,’ ” Bledsoe told CNN, his voice shaking as he broke down mid-sentence. “He said, ‘Come get me . . . The fire is coming in the back door. Come on, grandpa.’ “
But Bledsoe never made it home, and his family never made it out. His wife, Melody Bledsoe, 70, and their two great-grandchildren, James Roberts Jr., 5, and Emily Roberts, 4, were among the six people who died as a massive wildfire scorched thousands of acres of parched land across two counties in rural northern California. The so-called Carr Fire has twice doubled in size since it started a week ago, burning through nearly 100,000 acres as of Monday.
More than 700 houses have been destroyed, while another 5,000 structures remain threatened. The wildfire, one of more than a dozen burning across California amid a hotter-than-average summer, has driven thousands of people out of their homes.
As of Monday, the fire is 20 percent contained – slightly higher than Sunday night’s number. But the fire has continued to grow over the past 24 hours, burning through 98,724 acres of land so far, said Gabe Lauderdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
“Firefighters are working at building containment lines around the Carr Fire and strengthening containment lines that are already in place,” Lauderdale said.
Officials, however, seemed optimistic Monday that they could control the fire – the largest of several wildfires across the state.
“Firefighters are making good progress. There are certain areas of the fire that they’re able to go on with boots on the ground,” said Lisa Wilkolak, information officer for Carr Fire.
Wilkolak said the fire has moved toward less densely populated areas west and northwest of Redding, California, where the Bledsoes lived. By Monday morning, officials lifted evacuation orders for several parts of Redding.
The Redding Police Department said in a news release Monday that once residents return to their homes, some may find that their houses had been looted. It’s unclear how many have been victimized, or how many incidents of looting have been reported. On Sunday night, police arrested two people for entering evacuated and restricted areas.
The Carr fire began just after 1 p.m. July 23 and was caused by a mechanical issue involving a vehicle. Two days later, Ed Bledsoe left to run errands, thinking his home was not in any danger, he told CBS Sacramento. Minutes later, his wife called him, so he turned around, only to find that the fire had blocked his path home. Efforts to reach Bledsoe and other family members Monday were unsuccessful.
More than 700 houses have been destroyed, while another 5,000 structures remain threatened.
Relatives combed through evacuation centers, hoping to find Melody Bledsoe and her great-grandchildren. On Saturday, the Shasta County sheriff’s office told them that their loved ones had died.
“My babies are dead,” Sherry Bledsoe said as she cried with family members after meeting with sheriff’s deputies, the Associated Press reported.
The children’s bodies were found under a wet blanket.
“My wife wrapped them 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 it on her. Got over the top of them and lay there until the fire took them,” Ed Bledsoe told CBS Sacramento.
A GoFundMe page has been created to help the 76-year-old husband and great-grandfather, who was left with only the clothes he was wearing and the truck he was driving when he left the home he was renting. The campaign, which was verified by a GoFundMe spokeswoman, has nearly reached its goal of raising $30,000 as of Monday afternoon.
“Ed has lost everything important to him. His whole world has been ripped away from him,” according to the page.
Photos show a bright-red crime scene tape surrounding what is left of the house: piles of rubble underneath what appears to be pieces of tarp.
The GoFundMe page said the couple had been caring for their two great-grandchildren for years. It also said that the Bledsoes were not under evacuation orders when the fire engulfed their home. Neither Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko or a spokesperson for the office responded to requests for comment Monday, but Bosenko told CBS News that officials are working to find out whether the Bledsoes were given a warning about the fire.
Also among those who died are Redding Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke and Don Ray Smith, a privately hired bulldozer operator; both were killed while trying to contain the fire. The Shasta County sheriff’s office declined to release or confirm the name of the sixth victim.
Crews across California are battling 17 large blazes totaling more than 200,000 acres, a National Park Service official said.
The Carr Fire, in particular, began as a manageable blaze burning through a few thousand acres before it quickly spread to 20,000 acres last week. As Washington Post meteorologist Angela Fritz wrote, several conditions – including a hotter-than-average summer with triple-digit temperatures and a very dry winter – are feeding the inferno. This month is also Redding’s hottest July on record, with an average temperature of 86.7 degrees.
The Washington Post’s Cleve R. Wootson contributed to this report.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)