Two children and their great-grandmother are among five people to have died in a raging wildfire in northern California, reports say.
Two firefighters died while 17 people are missing and tens of thousands have fled their homes.
The fires in Shasta county are being sucked up by strong winds to form “fire tornados” that are uprooting trees and overturning cars, fire officials say. Firefighters are battling the blaze, which is only 5% contained so far.
The blazes, known as the Carr fire, have destroyed at least 500 structures and are threatening thousands of homes.
The wildfire began on Monday after a car malfunctioned. It has scorched over 48,000 acres (194 sq km) of land – an area larger than the city of San Francisco.
Sherry Bledsoe has confirmed that her grandmother Melody Bledsoe, 70, and her two children Emily Roberts, five, and James Roberts, four, died in the fire, reports say.
They were caught in the path of the fire as they were about to evacuate their home in the town of Redding, NBC reported. Melody Bledsoe’s husband, Ed, earlier described how she had called him while he was out shopping and told him to return home because the fire was getting close to the house.
When he reached home he found it destroyed and surrounded by police tape, he said. Another relative told NBC that Melody Bledsoe had called police to say they were trapped inside the house but the line went dead during the call.
Two firefighters – fire inspector Jeremy Stoke, and a bulldozer operator who has not yet been named, died trying contain the blaze.
More than 3,400 firefighters have been deployed – but the local fire department has warned that hot, dry weather is forecast for the rest of the week, and could make the blaze worse.
“We are seeing fire whirls – literally what can be described as a tornado,” California department of forestry and fire protection (CalFire) chief Ken Pimlott told reporters.
“This fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity” by gale-force winds, he said, “uprooting trees, moving vehicles, moving parts of roadways.”
“These are extreme conditions… we need to take heed and evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”
Pro-Syrian government forces advanced in an Islamic State pocket in southwest Syria on Sunday, a military media unit run by Damascus’ ally Hezbollah reported, despite a threat to hostages the jihadists seized last week.
Syrian state television broadcast footage from near the scene of the fighting showing military vehicles moving along a road.
Islamic State holds only a small area of Deraa province near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after army advances last week that forced it to retreat.
The group staged a sudden coordinated attack on Wednesday on the city of Sweida and nearby villages from a separate pocket about 65 km (40 miles) from Deraa, killing more than 200 people including many civilians, and seizing some women as hostages.
A war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the army had bombarded the remaining Islamic State territory in Deraa province. The Hezbollah media unit said the Syrian army had advanced towards the town of al-Shajara.
A non-Syrian source close to Damascus said the army had paused its offensive early on Sunday, but that this was for logistical reasons rather than because of the hostages.
An informal communications channel had been opened with Islamic State to try to release the hostages, the source said.
The Observatory reported air strikes against Islamic State positions east of Sweida, the city the jihadists attacked last week.
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