Cal Fire mechanic dies, bringing death toll to 8 as crews battle blazes throughout California
LOS ANGELES — A Cal Fire mechanic who was assigned to the Carr fire died in a vehicle crash in Tehama County early Thursday morning, the eighth death connected to the furious blaze that has scorched roughly 177,000 acres in Northern California, officials said.
The victim, described as a heavy-equipment mechanic, died in a crash on Highway 99, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.
The crash happened at 12:17 a.m. after a Dodge Ram 5500 veered off the highway’s right shoulder and slammed into a tree, according to Officer Ken Reineman of the California Highway Patrol’s Red Bluff station. The vehicle caught fire and the victim has not been publicly identified, Reineman said.
The Thursday morning wreck led to the eighth death connected to the Carr fire, which has proven to be the most lethal of the year. Four Redding residents, a Redding firefighter, a bulldozer operator and a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker have also died in connection with the blaze, which has destroyed more than 1,000 homes, officials have said.
Firefighters across the state are battling more than a dozen wildfires that have scorched more than 600,000 acres, bolstered by an extremely warm July and years of drought that have left underbrush ripe to burn.
In Southern California, the Holy fire had grown to 9,614 acres by Thursday morning, continuing to burn areas of Orange and Riverside counties as it crept toward canyon homes, officials said.
Firefighters have only achieved 5 percent containment, Cleveland National Forest officials said on Twitter, though officials are hoping favorable weather conditions over the weekend will help them stem the fire’s advance.
Evacuations have been ordered in McVicker Canyon, Rice Canyon, Horsethief Canyon, El Cariso, Rancho Capistrano, Indian Canyon, Glen Eden, Sycamore Creek and Mayhew Canyon, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The Ortega Highway corridor from Lookout Roadhouse to Nichols Institute also was included in the evacuation order.
Police said Wednesday the blaze may have begun as an act of arson. Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was arrested earlier this week on suspicion of felony arson and making a threat to terrorize in connection with the ignition of the Holy fire.
He is set to be arraigned Thursday, according to a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney’s office. It was not clear whether he had retained an attorney. Clark is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
Prior to his arrest, Clark gave a rambling interview to a television reporter, claiming he did not know how the fire began.
“I was asleep. I had two earplugs in,” he said, according to a report by KABC-TV Channel 7. “I’ve been up for, like, 20-some-odd days because Mission Hospital put me on this Amblin stuff.”
Other large fires are also continuing to drain resources and push firefighters to exhaustion. The sprawling Mendocino Complex fire in Lake County, which became the largest in state history earlier this week, had grown to 304,402 acres as of Thursday morning, officials said. The Donnell fire in Stanislaus County, which drew concern when it grew exponentially over the weekend, has now burned 17,941 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.