Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Dennis Romero and Andrew Blankstein

LOS ANGELES — President Donald Trump on Saturday declared a state of emergency in California due to massive wildfires burning from San Diego to Mendocino County.

A statement from the White House said Trump had authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist firefighters in the state who have been trying to beat back flames feeding off more than a half-decade's worth of drought-starved brush.

The governor's Office of Emergency Services reported that 102,028 acres have burned across the state this week. The worst of the conflagrations was the Carr Fire in Shasta County, which claimed the lives of two first responders, burned 48,312 acres and forced thousands to evacuate.

After Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the county Thursday, his office formally requested federal emergency aid from the White House late Friday.

At an afternoon news conference Friday the state's top fire official, Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott, blamed dry brush for the infernal eruptions across California.

"Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate," he said. "Pay very close attention to social media, websites, local television and radio broadcasts."

So many fires had broken out across the Golden State that Pimlott said first responders were hoping to mount vicious initial attacks to keep them in check. "Our first priority always is the initial attack of new fires," he said.

Image: US-WILDFIRES-CALIFORNIA-WILDFIRE-fire
Trees burst into flame during the Carr Fire near Whiskeytown, California on July 27, 2018.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

Brig. Gen. Matthew Beevers of the California National Guard said 800 of his troops were either at the Carr Fire or were headed that way. The guard has also deployed multiple aircraft, including at least one military drone that is allowing firefighters to monitor the behavior of the blaze, he said.

The Shasta County inferno has drawn 3,400 firefighters from as far away as San Diego County, which on Friday was dealing with its own brush fire, the 240-acre Pasquale fire near the storied town of Ramona.

Other blazes included the 46,675-acre Ferguson fire in Mariposa County, which was nearly one-third contained, and the 12,300-acre Cranston fire in Riverside County, which Cal Fire says is 17 percent contained.

Image: Major Wildfire Spreads To 28,000 Acres, Threatens Redding, CA
Smoke rises from the Carr Fire as it burns along highway 299 near Whiskeytown, California on July 27, 2018.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The Carr Fire has taken out 500 structures and damaged another 75, officials said. Another 5,000 structures were threatened. Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean told NBC News that "a wall of flame" struck the Shasta County city of Redding Thursday night, where multiple structures were gutted.

The fire was 5 percent contained Friday night, fire officials said.

Authorities said Friday that Fire Inspector Jeremy Stoke was killed while battling the Carr Fire; a bulldozer operator was also reported dead Thursday.

Cal Fire said the cause of the Carr Fire was the mechanical failure of a vehicle, according to NBC affiliate KCRA. A hotline (530-225-4277) has been set up so loved ones can report or find people missing as a result of the Shasta County disaster.

Redding Police Chief Roger Moore told reporters that so many people were evacuating they were creating traffic "gridlock" on the city's streets.

The Northern California blaze roared in daytime temperatures that reached 110 degrees, creating its own weather.

Image: Firefighters discuss plans while battling the Carr Fire in Shasta, California, on July 26, 2018.
Firefighters discuss plans while battling the Carr Fire in Shasta, California, on July 26, 2018.Noah Berger / AP

Cal Fire's Pimlott described the effect on the weather as "a tornado over this fire."

"Fire was whipped up into a whirlwind of activity," he said, adding, that it was "uprooting trees, moving vehicles, moving parts of roadways."

Shadrac Herrera of Redding, 34, said he witnessed the upheaval. "I saw a tornado of fire," he said. "I could hear it whistling and sucking up air and at the same time it was growing. Incredibly scary."

Firefighters did not expect much relief from the weather, influenced by a high pressure system over the Southwest that has goosed temperatures from Phoenix to San Francisco.

The National Weather Service forecasted high temperatures for Redding of 110 Friday and Saturday, with overnight lows expected to dip only into the mid-70s.

Early evening gusts could reach speeds of 30 miles per hour, but winds were expected to slow to 10 miles per hour or less by midnight, said federal meteorologist Hannah Chandler. High temperatures were forecast to reach the low 100s Monday and beyond, she said.

Asked if that represented a reprieve from record-setting temperatures along the West Coast, Chandler confirmed, "That is a cool down."

Reese Ravner contributed.