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(SKY NEWS) – The remains of an elderly woman and her two great-grandchildren have been found at home destroyed by a wildfire in California.
Melody Bledsoe, 70, is believed to have become stranded in her home along with five-year-old James Roberts and his four-year-old sister Emily. Their bodies are yet to be formally identified.
Her husband Ed had headed out for supplies and received a desperate call from his great-grandson warning that the flames were drawing closer, relatives said.
A total of five people are feared to been killed by the wildfires – including a firefighter and an 81-year-old bulldozer operator who died while trying to contain the blaze.
More than 38,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in the city of Redding as the fires enter their sixth day.
A total of 17 people have been reported missing in the area – but officials say most are believed to be alive as their houses are still standing. The Bledsoes residence was reduced to ashes.
Some 3,400 firefighters are battling what is being called the Carr Fir fire, which is growing “uncontrollably” and closing in on homes as high winds and triple-digit temperatures drive flames through bone-dry vegetation.
Donald Trump has declared an emergency in California, allowing counties affected by the wildfires to receive federal assistance.
Shelters in schools and colleges have reached full capacity in Shasta County, and the US government has approved aid for California to stop its spread and deal with its consequences.
One town, Keswick, has been reduced to smouldering ashes by the inferno, which whipped into a fire “tornado” on Thursday, leaping on gale force winds across the Sacramento river.
“This fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity, uprooting trees, moving vehicles, moving parts of roadways,” Ken Pimlott, director of the California department of forestry and fire protection (CalFire), said.
“This fire is a long way from done.”
The damage already done by the California fire is extensive.
At least 125 square miles (320 square km) had been scorched by the Carr fire by Saturday night. On Friday, 75 square miles (194 square km) of land was burning.
Most of the 500 buildings already destroyed and 5,000 under threat are in Redding, where 90,000 people live.
Beyond the Carr fire, US officials are tracking 89 active large fires across 14 states. They include major blazes close to Yosemite National Park and in the San Jacinto mountains.
Wildfires have so far left charred an estimated 4.15 million acres (1.68 million hectares) of land in the US this year.
Although well above average for the same period over the past decade, it is down from 5.27 million acres (2.13 million hectares) in the first seven months of 2017.