UPDATE: Two children and their great-grandmother have been found dead after they were reported missing during the massive wildfires sweeping the Redding, California area. The death toll has now reached five and firefighters continue to battle to gain control of the blaze.
More from NBC Bay Area:
Five-year-old James Roberts, 4-year-old Emily Roberts and Melody Bledsoe were caught in the path of the Carr Fire when they were about to evacuate their home on Quartz Hill in Redding, Bledsoe’s granddaughter Shelly Hoskison said.
Bledsoe told her husband that he needed to come home from work because the Carr Fire was getting close to their house, Hoskison told NBC Bay Area. Hoskison said her grandfather tried to get home right way but the streets were already blocked off by police.
Continue to pray for everyone involved. See how you can help below in our original story:
A HARROWING EXPERIENCE
A raging wildfire has continued to engulf much of Northern California, and is racing toward downtown Redding – a city with a population of just under 100,000 and home to the infamous “Bethel Church.”
With two confirmed deaths, many injured and scores of houses burnt down, the situation has become extremely severe. Faithwire caught up with a Redding-based former student at Bethel’s ministry school to gain an insight into the situation, and hear about her terrifying escape from the flames.
“Last night I was working,” said Emily Ables, who is an employee at a store in downtown Redding and is a graduate of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM). “The sky was turning from beige to pink where I work in the city center.”
She continued to describe a scene of chaos and confusion in Redding city center as the flames crossed the Sacramento river and encroached on the city limits:
“No one was coming in. You could see ambulances going by and homeless people wandering around empty parking lots. We already had almost half our staff call in that they needed to evacuate but stores were trying to stay open,” she said. “And then our power went out. So we left and driving home was wild – the gas stations were flooded with vehicles filling up and spilling out into the streets.”
When she got home, Emily described seeing people desperately packing all their belongings into their cars as they prepared to flee the city. “It was the most people I’ve seen ever outside in the streets,” she noted.
“I packed and tried to locate my friends here. Found out a bunch of them had already left in a caravan which felt pretty scary… but there were a few of us left. I actually don’t have a phone – I meant to get a new plan so I was pretty worried cause I needed WiFi and the power was going out!”
She added: “I went to meet a friend at his house and he didn’t answer his door so I asked the first person I saw and she let me come inside and use her phone.”
When asked why there was no obvious or organized evacuation of residents from the area of risk, Ables replied, “well, it happened really fast.”
It has been confirmed that two firefighters were killed as they battled the blaze, with several others reportedly suffering serious burns. According to the Sacramento Bee, one of those firefighters was Redding fire inspector, Jeremy Stoke.
The unpredictability of the flames has made containing the fire extremely difficult. “This fire is scary to us, this is something we haven’t seen before in the city,” said Redding Police Chief Roger Moore. “It’s changing direction radically.”
As for Ables, she said that though she was trying to stay positive during such an unprecedented situation, she was utterly devastated when hearing of the deaths.
“I’m feeling really emotional just now cause the two deaths are firefighters,” Ables said. “We just heard that. It’s crazy that they are still out there – it’s been like 2 days. They are just fighting to save all our homes.”
Ables explained that evacuees were forced to us “social media and the news” to figure out a way of escaping the city. But despite the staggering devastation, Ables explained that Bethel Church members were witnessing in the most extraordinary ways, setting up a Facebook page to help coordinate rescue efforts and assist stricken residents by providing food and shelter.
“Bethel had a group immediately where people started posting help and need,” she told Faithwire.
“All the restaurants and places are filled with our people. It’s hard to feel hopeless because it’s almost fun seeing so many of your friends? Which is insensitive but also very real. We know that many people have lost their homes and 2 people have been confirmed dead. Bethel has an incredible group of staff that are taking care of people but so does our nearby university and Redding locals are banning together.”
After borrowing a car and heading off with a few friends, Emily said that they eventually stopped and set up a makeshift camp using anything they had time to grab before fleeing the flames. “We took too long to pack and left later than most the town. And then just decided to camp rather than drive to another big city. So we drove for about 1.5 hrs and camped.”
Ables sent us a shot of her car, packed full of belongings:
“One had a tent, I brought air mattresses and we all threw our sleeping bags in our cars,” she said, noting that some people at the truck stop were complaining that the local hotels were taking advantage of stricken residents and “raising their prices.”
“I think that’s illegal,” she said. “There are fires ALL over CA.”
Tragically, the friend who lent Emily her car had her entire house destroyed in the fire. “Her house burnt down, with all her stuff,” Ables noted.
When I asked her how at risk her own house was, she was unsure. But it doesn’t look good. “I’m right in the middle of the shopping areas,” she said. “Super central.”
As for the group’s plan for the rest of the day and tonight, Emily is not sure. It is an overwhelming situation to find yourself in.
She later told me that her group was headed to Roseville to meet up with more friends and find an Airbnb for the night.
Ables also sent through some absolutely horrifying footage of a residential street that had been totally gutted by the flames:
Posted by Nick Kerley on Friday, July 27, 2018
Despite the horrifying scenes, the theology graduate noted that many people have continued to come together in order to help each other out at this dreadful time. “It’s been beautiful to see many people east of the city open their homes to people, fields and kennels for animals,” she said.
Keep praying for this devastated community.