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The firefighters killed in the blaze included Don Ray Smith, 81, of Pollock Pines, a bulldozer operator who was helping clear vegetation in the path of the wildfire. He said the latest victim had not complied with an evacuation order.

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said he expects to find several of those people alive and just out of touch with loved ones. These two blazes have consumed a combined 56,000 acres (22,700 hectares) to date, and each one is just 5 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

"I've been a lifelong resident of this community, and I've never seen a fire with such destruction here in this area ever before", Shasta County Supervisor Leonard Moty said of the Carr Fire during a news briefing.

Authorities in California have reported levels of fire intensity and unpredictability they have seldom seen before. In all, some 10,000 people have been warned to flee, fire officials said.

Crews across California are battling 17 large blazes totaling more than 200,000 acres, a National Park Service official said. The weather remains hot, dry and windy, and firefighters are doing all they can to stop keep the flames from moving from the hills to homes.

Fire officials were hopeful that they could make progress containing the blaze, which was 23 percent contained.

Almost 3400 firefighters battling the Carr Fire have begun to gain control of it, cutting containment lines around 20% of its perimeter by Monday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). In some areas, thousands of tired residents were allowed to return home.

The fire's northwestern end continued to be active. Bledsoe's granddaughter, Amanda Woodley, said on Facebook the elderly woman desperately put a wet blanket over the children as their home burned.

Another two wildfires burning about 14 miles (22 kilometers) apart are threatening 10,000 homes. It then jumped the Sacramento River and took out subdivisions on the western edge of Redding.

McLean, the state fire spokesman, said there was no guarantee of safety in a state that has been ravaged by years of drought that has turned trees and brush to tinder.

The fire slowed down as winds subsided, and crews were able to get into neighborhoods to prevent embers from taking out additional homes, he said. He said one of the children told him the blaze was at the back door.

Authorities also use electronic warning systems, including an emergency alert system that is repeated by local news media and an automated calling system that can be targeted to phones within a geographic area.

The drawback of the automated calling system is that it is created to dial landlines, but cellphone users must register their phones if they are to receive alerts, she said.