REDDING, Calif. (KTVU) - The Carr Fire burning in Redding nearly doubled overnight and has now burned more than 80,000 acres, CalFire Batalion Chief Jonathan Cox said Saturday.
Redding, reeling from the loss of homes and lives, braced for another round from the Carr Fire Friday night. North winds were lighter than expected in the evening, giving hand crews a chance to make headway on their 5 percent containment.
But the blaze, which started Monday with a spark from a car killed two fire personnel: an inspector and a bulldozer operator.
"It's unnbelievable, devastating," said Kelley Wagner, standing with husband Nick, just outside the evacuation zone, watching the hills glow orange at dusk.
"We haven't seen anything like this in the North State and we've lived here our whole lives," said Nick, "never any fire this close to town, it just doesn't happen."
Thursday night, it did happen. A fire that had already scorched Redding's outskirts, came roaring into the city, torching neighborhoods with embers that were blowing miles ahead in strong, swirling winds.
"It can be described as a tornado," said Ken Pimlott, Director of CalFire, speaking at a late-afteroon briefing.
"This fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity, uprooting trees, moving vehicles, parts of roadways, just very extreme winds."
Pimlott blamed the combination of heat, low humidity, terrain, and wind for turning wildfires into firestorms.
The overnight onslaught left an estimated 500 structures damaged or destroyed.
Some are outbuildings, but hundreds of homes are leveled in several northwest Redding neighborhoods.
The police chief is among those who lost his house.
"This fire is scary to us, this is something we haven't seen before in the city," said Chief Roger Moore, at the briefing.
He urged residents to remain alert and ready to make a fast getaway.
"Last night, we saw massive gridlock, and we can't have that," said Moore, " so please leave early, please have your items ready to go."
Evacuations continued Friday, as CalFire estimated 5,000 homes remain threatened.
"It's been pretty amazing how people have pulled together," said Dezeray Shaw, who fled to the emergency shelter at Shasta College with her six children and their dogs.
The college gymnasium is lined with cots, and other evacuees were moving them outdoors to sleep in the warm air.
Shaw is a nurse who helped clear-out 110 seniors from an assisted-living facility the night before, as fire approached.
"Everyone got out okay, all basic needs are met, everyone is safe," said Shaw, "no time to be scared, we're all just working together."
There is no timetable for when evacuees may return home.
"There are 38,000 people displaced right now, and we want to get them back to their homes," said CalFire public information officer Brice Bennett.
"But they can't go back until it's safe, and it's not safe yet."
As daylight faded into smoke, a lone helicopter continued dousing the smoldering neighborhoods.
Keswick Dam offered a view of both scorched banks of the Samcramento River, where the fire made an impressive jump.
As powerful as that was, residents want everyone to know Redding still stands.
"You know it's devastating and a lot of people in the community have lost their homes," said Charles Carlson, who helped relatives evacuate.
"But it's not like it's sweeping through all of Redding, like some people make it out to be."
Residents expressed confidence the community would band together to help those who suffered fire losses.
"We've been here our whole lives and this our community, this is our people, and it's just sad," concluded Nick Wagner.