Carr Fire scorches Northern California, kills 3 family members trapped inside home

Carr Fire forces evacuations
Carr Fire forces evacuations 03:04

Last Updated Jul 30, 2018 6:55 PM EDT

REDDING, Calif. — There are 17 major fires raging Monday and the city of Redding, California, is the site of the worst of them. It's called the Carr Fire, a reference to the road where it all started, and has grown to the size of Denver and is only 20 percent contained.

The devastation has swept through the neighborhood, leaving a stark dividing line. On one side of the road, homes are gone, while some on the other side were spared.

The California fires are blamed for at least eight deaths — six from the Carr Fire which started a week ago. The flames have scorched nearly a quarter of a million acres of California land.

More than 1,000 homes and other buildings have been destroyed or damaged. About 25,000 more homes are threatened. More than 52,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate and more than 12,000 firefighters are battling the fires.

Dave Spliethof is a pilot for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who works as an aerial spotter, looking for fires, which is what he was doing when he discovered he'd lost his house.

"I knew at the time, 'OK it's gone, it's going, it's gone, you know, just take a deep breath and go back to work,'" Spliethof told CBS News. "Knowing it could be my house someday, we do everything we can to prepare for it, but this one was so bad even all the preparation in the world ... just didn't stop it."

The Carr Fire itself has demolished more than 700 homes, so far, and forced nearly 40,000 residents to evacuate

Jonathan Cox is a battalion chief at Cal Fire, the state fire agency. He showed a neighborhood left destroyed, in part, by a "fire vortex" — a weather pattern created by this fire, something that has not been seen here in a generation.

"Some of the tops of these canyons the fire would just race up the canyon and have no regard for what was in its path," Cox explained.

Standing where the vortex sped through, it ripped apart fences, took tops off trees and while it was at it, burned a house down and charred some vehicles. A firefighter hose was left behind, presumably which was used in trying to stop the blaze, but it got too hot and was just too much. That's how quickly this fire moved.

On Monday, some neighbors were allowed to return to see what might be left of their homes, but many, like the Spliethof family, won't come home to anything.

"I would much rather be out there helping than be here feeling sorry for myself," Spliethof said.

The human toll the fire has had is just as devastating.

Man mourns wife, great-grandchildren 03:07

Three members of one family have become a heartbreaking symbol of what this fire can do. Two young children and their great-grandmother were killed in a home engulfed by flames.

The towering flames were bearing down Redding. Evacuation orders were in place for several neighborhoods, but Ed Bledsoe says he didn't hear any.

Bledsoe's wife, Melody, was at the home with their great-grandchildren: 5-year-old James and 4-year-old Emily. Bledsoe said he needed to run a quick errand.

"They wanted to go with me and I wouldn't take them with me because I didn't have air conditioning in my damn truck," he said. "So I said, no it's so hot out there, you guys stay here and Grandpa will be right back."

It was only about 15 minutes after he left that Bledsoe's wife called and urged him to return because the fire is coming up the hill. Bledsoe tried to race back, but the roads were blocked. He felt helpless.

"I was talking to my little grandson on the phone, and he said, 'Grandpa, please, you got to come and help us. The fire is at the back door, come and get us.' I said, 'I'm close by, son, I'm trying to get in there. I said I'm right by you, honey, just hold on, Grandpa's coming," Bledsoe said choking back tears.

He stayed on the phone, and could see the flames.

ctm-0730-carr-fire-ed-bledsoe.jpg
Ed Bledsoe CBS News

"I could hear them, the fire in there crackling," Bledsoe explained. "Emily was hollering that she loved me. She said, 'Tell Grandpa that I love him. I love him.' And then my wife was saying, 'Tell Grandpa I love him with all my heart.'"

"My wife wrapped them up in wet blankets and got over the top of them," Bledsoe said. "My dogs got in on them and they laid there until the fire took them."

The hardest thing to accept, he says, is not to have been there.

Bledsoe said he never got any sort of evacuation warning.

"Nothing. Absolutely not a word," he said. "Nobody told us nothing. I would've been with them. ... I would've done anything. I would've died right there with them. They're that important to me."

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said his department did tell people living in Redding to evacuate. They're investigating to see if the Bledsoe home got a warning call or a door-knock.

"In the areas both before the Bledsoe home and after the Bledsoe home, there was evidence that notifications were made for the door-to-door notifications," Bosenko said.

Reporting from Jeff Glor and Carter Evans in Redding, California.