LAKEPORT, Calif. — A pair of wildfires that prompted evacuation orders for nearly 20,000 people barreled Monday toward small lake towns in Northern California, and authorities faced questions about how quickly they warned residents about the largest and deadliest blaze burning in the state.
Ed Bledsoe told CBS News he did not receive any warning to evacuate his home in the city of Redding before the flames came through last week and killed his wife, Melody, and his great-grandchildren, 5-year-old James Roberts and 4-year-old Emily Roberts.
“If I’d have any kind of warning, I’d have never, ever left my family in that house,” Bledsoe said.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told the network there’s an investigation into whether the Bledsoe home received a warning call or a knock on the door. The sheriff cited evidence that door-to-door notifications were made in the area. Bosenko did not return a message from The Associated Press on Monday.
The dispute came as authorities on Sunday ordered evacuations around twin fires in Mendocino and Lake counties, including from the 4,700-resident town of Lakeport, a popular destination for bass anglers and boaters on the shores of Clear Lake, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of San Francisco. The blazes have destroyed six homes and threaten 10,000 others. So far, the flames have blackened 87 square miles (225 square kilometers), with minimal containment.
Those fires were among 17 burning across the state, where fire crews were stretched to the limit.
“We have experienced fires the last four years, and so we’re very aware of what can happen with fires and the damage they can cause,” Lake County Sheriff Lt. Corey Paulich said.
Derick Hughes II did not heed the order and remained behind at his property in Nice, California, where he ran sprinklers on his roof and removed yard plants that could catch fire.
The 32-year-old Marine Corps veteran sent his wife and two daughters to safety along with three carloads of belongings. But he said he had too much at stake to leave himself. He bought his three-bedroom house last year using a loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is everything I bled for, and I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am, and I’m just not willing to give it up so easily,” he said over the phone. “Some people may think that’s selfish of me, and I have insurance. But the way things go, I’d rather not start over.”