REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) - Assisted by calmer winds at their backs, firefighters in northern California on Tuesday stepped up a drive to surround a deadly blaze raging for more than a week around the city of Redding, as 14 people listed as missing turned up safe.
Six others reported missing in the fire zone, 160 miles (260 km) north of the state capital Sacramento, remained unaccounted for, said Redding police Sergeant Todd Cogle, who has overseen the effort to find them.
Frustrated in their search after discovering most of the homes of missing individuals were spared from the fire, police took the unusual step of publicizing the names of 20 people whose whereabouts were unknown.
Within three hours, 14 of them, previously unaware they were being sought and unreachable by cell phone, were located when they saw their names on television or the internet and contacted authorities, Cogle said.
“It speaks to the power of the media and social media,” he told Reuters. Cogle said he was hopeful the remaining six would show up safe as well, adding that at least half of their homes were still intact.
The Carr Fire, which erupted last Monday, has claimed six confirmed fatalities since gale-force winds whipped the blaze into a cyclone of flames that jumped a river and roared with little warning into Redding and adjacent Shasta County communities on Thursday night.
Whole neighborhoods were laid to waste as residents fled for their lives, many carrying only their pets and few belongings.
Among the dead were two firefighters, as well as two young children who perished with their great-grandmother as they huddled under a wet blanket while their house went up in smoke.
Nearly 900 homes and 300 other buildings were reduced to ruins in what state officials now rank as the seventh most destructive wildfire in California history.
Some 3,600 firefighters arrayed against the blaze gained further ground, helped by a second day of diminished winds.
State fire officials reported 27 percent of the blaze’s perimeter corralled by containment lines, up from 5 percent during much of the past week, even as the footprint of scorched landscape grew to 110,000 acres (45,000 hectares).
Some evacuees have been allowed to return home, though as many as 37,000 remained displaced.
Lighter winds also gave a boost to some 2,000 firefighters battling a pair of fires at the southern end of Mendocino National Forest, where some 12,200 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.
Those blazes, dubbed the Ranch and River fires, have charred more than 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares), with containment measured at 12 percent for the two together.
The Carr Fire stands as the most formidable of 94 wildfires burning across 13 U.S. Western states, from Texas to Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
California, with 17 large active blazes reported, has been one of the hardest hit, with a volatile mix of triple digit-temperatures, erratic winds and drought-parched vegetation fueling intense wildfire activity.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Chris Reese, Toni Reinhold