By Fred Greaves
REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) - At least one person was killed in a rapidly moving wildfire that sent residents fleeing from a northern California city where homes and businesses burned and power was cut on Friday, fire officials said.
The Carr Fire, a blaze in Shasta County that has quadrupled in size over the last two days to scorch 28,000 acres (11,300 hectares) of land, killed a bulldozer operator, the state's forestry and fire protection department said.
The blaze moved east from the communities of Whiskeytown and Shasta and crossed the Sacramento River to threaten the city of Redding, home to 90,000 people. Fire officials said the mechanical failure of a vehicle sparked the blaze on Monday.
"The fire is moving so fast that law enforcement is doing evacuations as fast as we can. There have been some injuries to civilians and firefighters," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott McLean told the Sacramento Bee newspaper. "It's way too dynamic and burning quickly."
Winds were forecast to reach speeds of 25 miles (40 km) per hour, with temperatures reaching 110 Fahrenheit (43 Celsius), conditions that could fan the flames further and hamper efforts to combat the blaze.
The Carr Fire is one of 88 burning nationally, mostly across the American west. This year so far, almost 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) have been blackened by wildfires, above a 10-year average of 3.6 million acres (1.5 million hectares) over the same period, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Cal Fire officials were not available to provide details about the injuries to civilians and firefighters, or how much damage the blaze had caused.
Roads out of the city, about 150 miles (240 km) north of Sacramento, were jammed overnight with motorists trying to escape the flames, social media postings showed.
Two residents who chose not to leave were 61-year-old Rob Wright and his wife, who planned to fight off flames with a high-powered water hose.
"We were fortunate enough that the wind changed about hours ago and it is pushing the fire back," said Wright, at about 1:15 a.m. local time. "We are just waiting it out ... crossing our fingers and hoping for the best."
'TRYING TO MAKE A STAND'
Some 1,700 firefighters are battling the blaze, Cal Fire said.
"They're doing what they can, they're trying to make a stand where they can," McLean said. "It's extreme. It's blowing up off and on again."
McLean added that the wildfire was in an area of rolling hills and not in "house-to-house neighbourhoods."
Video footage and images posted on social media showed flames engulfing structures as an orange glow lit up the night sky.
Residents were evacuated to a nearby college and elementary school, and a local ABC news station stopped covering the fire in order to evacuate. The Mercy Medical Center in Redding evacuated its neonatal intensive care unit, it said in a statement.
A Red Cross employee told local ABC affiliate KRCR there were some 500 people in the evacuation centre at Shasta College.
A local casino said on Facebook it had opened its doors to people who were fleeing the fire.
Multiple power outages were reported, the city said on its website. More than 3,000 customers had lost power in the area, according to utility PG&E.
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Shasta and Riverside Counties.
The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services said it had activated a state operations centre to provide assistance in multiple wildfires burning in Northern and Southern California.
Two weeks ago, a firefighter died fighting the Ferguson Fire east of San Francisco when a bulldozer overturned. Seven other firefighters were hurt.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)