REDDING, Calif. – The toll of devastation from one of the most brutal fires in California history rose Wednesday to more than 1,000 homes destroyed and almost 200 damaged as a sprawling wildfire ignited by a spark from a towed vehicle grew to 180 square miles.
Blistering heat, shifting winds, steep terrain and plentiful dried growth continued to challenge more than 4,000 firefighters battling the Carr Fire, which has killed six people, including two firefighters.
"The western edge of fire continued to challenge crews yesterday evening," Cal Fire said Wednesday. "Crews will continue to construct control lines and contingency lines to mitigate further spread."
The fire has burned an area four times the size of San Francisco. The 1,018 homes, 12 businesses and 435 other buildings that have been confirmed as destroyed place the blaze sixth on the state's list of most destructive fires.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said all missing people reported to his office had been accounted for. But he said the death toll could rise.
"We're concerned with individuals that have no family," Bosenko said.
Mercy Medical Center said it was fully operational – even though dozens of employees, physicians or volunteers lost homes in the fire.
"The humankindness in the air is thicker than the smoke!" the hospital said in a note of thanks posted on its website to firefighters and other first responders.
There was some good news. The fire was almost 35 percent contained, and thousands of residents were allowed to return to their neighborhoods. Thousands more remain evacuated because of the blaze ignited July 23 by a spark from a steel wheel rim on a trailer towed with a flat tire.
The Carr Fire was one of more than a dozen racing through the parched state. Yosemite National Park's treasured Yosemite Valley, which has been closed since July 25, was among several areas of the park that won't reopen until at least Sunday because of heavy smoke from the Ferguson Fire. Park officials had hoped to reopen Friday.
Other sections of the park remained open, but "visitors are advised to drive with caution, as smoke impacts may vary," park officials said in a statement. The Ferguson Fire, which has claimed the lives of two firefighters, had burned almost 100 square miles and was 39 percent contained after burning for almost three weeks.
Twin fires in Mendocino and Lake Counties, 120 miles north of San Francisco, had burned through 140 square miles and destroyed 10 homes.
"Last night, firefighters made good progress on increasing containment on the River and Ranch fires," said Ron Myers, a deputy incident commander with Cal Fire. "Low humidity, heat and wind will continue to challenge firefighters throughout the day today."
The state spent more than $114 million fighting fires in July, the first month of California's fiscal year. The state spent a record $758 million last year.
“We’ve started off with a bang,’’ Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said.
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Schultz reported for the Record Searchlight in Redding, California. Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, Damon Arthur and David Benda with the Record Searchlight