Five dead and 17 missing in California wildfires

Two young children and their great grandmother are among the dead

Five dead and 17 missing in California wildfires

A firefighter makes a stand in front of an advancing wildfire in Redding California, 28-07-2018. Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Two young children are among the latest victims to die in wildfires raging through northern California.

The four and five-year-olds died alongside their great-grandmother in the city of Redding - taking the total number of dead to five.

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.

It brings the number of people feared dead to five – after a fire fighter and an 81-year-old bulldozer died trying to contain the blaze.

Carr Fir fire

More than 38,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes 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.

Around 3,500 fire fighters are struggling against a blaze that has burned through an area nearly three times the size of San Francisco.

Officials say the fire is growing "uncontrollably" and closing in on homes as high winds and triple-digit temperatures drive flames through bone-dry vegetation.

A firefighter walks along a containment line while battling a wildfire in Redding California, 28-07-2018. Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Emergency

US President 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."

A firefighter walks near flames from the Carr Fire in Redding, California 28-07-2018. Image: AP Photo/Noah Berger

Damage

The damage already done by the California fire is extensive.

Most of the 500 buildings already destroyed and 5,000 under threat are in Redding, where 90,000 people live.

US officials are also 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 ravaged around 4.15 million acres 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 in the first seven months of 2017.