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'Tornado of fire': More than 100,000 acres scorched in California

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'Tornado of fire': More than 100,000 acres scorched in California

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LOS ANGELES - From San Diego to Mendocino County, firefighters in California were trying to beat back flames that were feeding off more than a half-decade's worth of drought-starved brush.

The governor's Office of Emergency Services reported that 102,028 acres have burned across the state this week. The worst of the conflagrations was the Carr fire in Shasta County, which claimed the lives of two first responders, burned 48,312 acres and forced thousands to evacuate.

After Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the county Thursday, his office formally requested federal emergency aid from the White House late Friday.

At an afternoon news conference Friday the state's top fire official, Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott, blamed drought-starved brush for the infernal eruptions across California.

"Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate," he said. "Pay very close attention to social media, websites, local television and radio broadcasts."

So many fires had broken out across the Golden State that Pimlott said first responders' were hoping to mount viscious initial attacks to keep them in check. "Our first priority always is the initial attack of new fires," he said.

Brig. Gen. Matthew Beevers of the California National Guard said 800 of his troops were either at the Carr fire or were headed that way. The guard has also deployed multiple aircraft, including at least one military drone that is allowing firefighters to monitor the behavior of the blaze, he said.

The Shasta County inferno has drawn 3,400 fire fighters from as far away as San Diego County, which on Friday was dealing with its own brush fire, the 240-acre Pasquale fire near the storied town of Ramona.

Other blazes included the 46,675-acre Ferguson fire in Mariposa County, which was nearly one-third contained, and the 11,500-acre Cranston fire in Riverside County, which Cal Fire says is 3 percent contained. The Shasta County blaze was officially said to be 3 percent contained, but Cal Fire officials told NBC News there was really zero containment so far.

The Carr fire has taken out 500 structures and damaged another 75, officials said. Another 5,000 structures were threatened. Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean told NBC News that "a wall of flame" struck the Shasta County city of Redding Thursday night, where multiple structures were gutted.

The fire was 5 percent contained Friday night, fire officials said.Authorities said Friday that Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke was killed while battling the Carr fire; a bulldozer operator was also reported dead Thrusday.Cal Fire said the cause of the Carr fire was the mechanical failure of a vehicle, according to NBC affiliate KCRA. A hotline (530-225-4277) has been set up so loved ones can report or find people missing as a result of the Shasta County disaster.

Redding Police Chief Roger Moore told reporters that so many people were evacuating they were creating traffic "gridlock" on the city's streets.The Northern California blaze roared in daytime temperatures that reached 110 degrees, creating its own weather.

Noah Berger
Firefighters discuss plans while battling the Carr Fire in Shasta, California, on July 26, 2018.Noah Berger

Cal Fire's Pimlott described the effect on the weather as "a tornado over this fire."

"Fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity," he said, adding, that it was "uprooting trees, moving vehicles, moving parts of roadways."

Thirty-four-year-old Shadrac Herrera of Redding said he witnessed the upheaval. "I saw a tornado of fire," he said. "I could hear it whistling and sucking up air and at the same time it was growing. Incredibly scary."

Firefighters did not expect much relief from the weather, influenced by a high pressure system over the Southwest that has goosed temperatures from Phoenix to San Francisco.

The National Weather Service forecasted high temperatures for Redding of 110 Friday and Saturday, with overnight lows expected to dip only into the mid-70s.Early evening gusts could reach speeds of 30 miles per hour, but winds were expected to slow to 10 miles per hour or less by midnight, said federal meteorologist Hannah Chandler. High temperatures were forecast to reach the low 100s Monday and beyond, she said.

Asked if that represented a reprieve from record-setting temperatures along the West Coast, Chandler confirmed, "That is a cool down."