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In Northern California, Deadly Carr Fire Continues To Burn

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Carr Fire in California has now claimed at least 6 lives, including two children. Seven people are reported missing. It is the largest of 17 wildfires blazing throughout Northern California - burning more than 95,000 acres, forcing roughly 38,000 people to evacuate. Firefighters there are frustrated by how quickly this blaze is moving. From member station KQED, Sonja Hutson reports from Shasta County.

SONJA HUTSON, BYLINE: After several days of little to no change in the fire's containment, firefighters made big advances on Sunday, restricting the fire's reach by 12 percent throughout the course of the day. Bret Gouvea is incident commander for Cal Fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRET GOUVEA: Rather than being in the defensive mode on this fire all the time, we're starting to make some good progress out there.

HUTSON: Previously, Cal Fire had been focused on securing existing fire lines by quashing any flare-ups and making sure homes that are still standing have defensible space in case the fire comes back. In an evacuation zone near Redding where firefighters are doing some of that work, the fire has scorched entire hillsides and valleys. It's a landscape of blackened earth still smoldering in some areas with bits of ash flying around like snow flurries. Butte County firefighter Casey Corcoran is out in the small evacuated community of Igo. He's been helping stop flare-ups to protect homes.

CASEY CORCORAN: What we do is we get out there. We'll start cutting down brush, clearing woodpiles, just getting anything out of the way that might be a hazard that will help us when the fire hits.

HUTSON: Corcoran shows how by loosely wrapping hoses around hooks on the back of fire engines firefighters can respond more quickly to flare-ups.

CORCORAN: So you grab that nozzle. And then you'll grab that whole bundle of hose, drop the bundle on the ground and go.

HUTSON: Firefighters can't rely on their traditional knowledge of how fires behave like burning in a straight line fueled by the wind, and that makes battling the blaze all the more difficult. Because the Carr Fire is so unpredictable, authorities say they've been issuing evacuation orders pretty liberally. Cal Fire's Bret Gouvea says it's a safety measure.

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GOUVEA: We're not taking any chances moving forward. As we saw, the fire behavior gives us very little time.

HUTSON: But family members of a 70-year-old woman and her two great-grandchildren who died in the blaze say they were not notified of an evacuation order. But Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko says he's working to figure out if that's true.

TOM BOSENKO: I did see that there was notices given on one end of the street, the roadway.

HUTSON: Bosenko says he does know that another person who died in the fire over the weekend was warned but chose not to evacuate. Donna Hopper Day, who lives near Redding, also hadn't evacuated because she couldn't bring her dogs with her. She says it's scary staying behind.

DONNA HOPPER DAY: Where it jumped through the creek it looked like the flames were as high as the hill. It was moving fast.

HUTSON: Firefighters have made good progress in keeping the fire from coming towards her home. But Day's still in danger every minute she's out there when evacuation orders are still in place. For NPR News, I'm Sonja Hutson in Redding, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLEEP MAPS' "BIOLOGIC TRUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER. She’s been reporting on politics ever since the 10th grade, when she went to so many school board meetings the district set up a press table for her. Before coming to Utah, Sonja spent four years at KQED in San Francisco where she covered everything from wildfires to the tech industry. When she’s not working, you can find her skiing, camping, or deeply invested in a 1000 piece puzzle.