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PG&E apprentice lineman killed in Carr Fire; seventh wildfire death

Sacramento Bee logoSacramento Bee 8/6/2018 Tony Bizjak

A 21-year-old Pacific Gas and Electric crew member was killed in a vehicle accident Saturday evening while working in a wilderness area near Redding, becoming the seventh known death so far in the two-week-old Carr Fire.

"Crews in a remote area with dangerous terrain were performing (power) restoration work when a crew member suffered an accident and a fatal injury in western Shasta County," PG&E spokesman J.D. Guidi said Sunday morning.

Guidi said PG&E is working with local law enforcement officials to investigate the circumstances of the death, which occurred at about 6 p.m.

Company officials identified the worker as Jairus Ayeta, 21, an apprentice lineman.

In a 2015 Facebook posting, Uganda native Ayeta expressed pride in choosing his occupation as a utility worker. "Working for a power company made me realize I made the best decision of my life," he wrote. "Every day's something new."

A GoFundMe page was established Saturday evening with the goal of raising $60,000 for his family.

Two firefighters and five others have been killed in the fire that has swept through mountains and burned into the western side of the city of Redding.

Cal Fire reported 18 large wildfires were active in the state Sunday morning, consuming an estimated 873 square miles of land. Many of them have been burning for days and even weeks. Some 1,800 structures have been destroyed, most of those in the Carr Fire, and 17,000 homes were listed as at risk statewide Sunday.

A total of 45,000 people are under evacuation. More than 15,000 firefighters were involved in fighting the fires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Sunday it is making federal disaster assistance available for victims of California fires from July 23 forward. That help includes funds for temporary housing, home repairs and loans for uninsured property loss, according to FEMA.

Northern California's two largest fires, the Carr and Mendocino fires, continued to grow Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Cal Fire and local crews also were fighting a 135-acre brush fire Sunday near the foothills area of Vallecito in Calaveras County, off Parrott's Ferry Road.

Officials issued an evacuation advisory at noon for residents of the Live Oak subdivision, Batton Road and Green Meadows. The fire at the time was only 5 percent contained but was burning within fire-retardant retention lines that had been dropped by firefighting aircraft.

"There are scattered (residential) parcels in the area, but they are at least a mile away," Cal Fire spokeswoman Emily Kilgore said. The evacuation is an alert to area residents to be prepared in case an evacuation is required. "You don't have to leave, but maybe start thinking about getting yourself ready."

The most dramatic fire in the state over the past few weeks, the 154,000-acre Carr Fire west of Redding, was reported 41 percent contained Sunday morning.

Cal Fire officials said they expected fewer winds Sunday but high temperatures.

"We had a really active night last night, the winds came through," Cal Fire spokeswoman Erica Bain said. "We are able to keep it in containment line, though."

That fire forced evacuation last week of more than 40,000 people in Shasta and Trinity counties. Most of those people have been allowed to return home. More were allowed home on Sunday in the Keswick area northwest of Redding, not far from the fire's origination point.

The fire, however, has caused massive destruction. Cal Fire lists it as the sixth-most destructive in state history in terms of buildings burned at 1,600 - much of it in subdivisions on the western edge of Redding.

Others killed since the beginning of the Carr Fire are Don Ray Smith, 81, of Pollock Pines, a private bulldozer operator killed while trying to contain the flames; fire inspector Jeremy Stoke, a Redding firefighter since 2004 who was killed battling the fire Thursday night; and 70-year-old Melody Bledsoe and her great-grandchildren Emily, 4, and James, 5. Another victim, found in a burned home, hasn't been identified.

The two major fires burning near each other in Mendocino County grew to 255,000 acres by Sunday morning, making the pair - called the Ranch and River fires - together the fifth-largest fire in state history in terms of acres burned.

Large areas of Lake County, north and west of Clear Lake, including along the lake's north shore, remained under mandatory evacuation Sunday. Some areas of western Colusa County also were under evacuations orders, and an advisory evacuation notice was in effect for a section of west Glenn County.

Residents were allowed back in to portions of the North Lakeport neighborhood on Clear Lake's west shore at noon Sunday. A portion of Highway 20 north of the lake also was reopened.

Cal Fire reported those fires were 33 percent contained Sunday morning and projected full containment to occur in 10 days.

National Weather Service forecasters said skies will continue to be hazy in the northern Sacramento Valley Sunday as northwesterly winds push Mendocino Fire smoke this way.

Temperature highs will be in the low to mid-90s Sunday, with another streak of 100-degree-plus days to hit Sacramento and Redding by Wednesday.

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