/Man, woman who died in California fires were ready to flee, but stayed due to erroneous information

Man, woman who died in California fires were ready to flee, but stayed due to erroneous information


A 68-year-old man and 77-year-old woman who were found dead near their home in fire-ravaged Northern California had been packed to evacuate but decided to stay based on “erroneous information” about the blaze, authorities said.

A volunteer firefighter in Oregon who used a bullhorn to alert neighbors to approaching flames later found his own home destroyed.

And in some areas of Oregon, California and Washington state, residents and public officials are getting a truer sense of the vast destruction caused by still-burning wildfires that have now scorched an area around the size of New Jersey.

In Oregon, 1 million acres have burned and 1,145 homes and 579 other structures have been destroyed, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. Eight people have died from the fires.

Blazes in Washington have charred over 800,000 acres and destroyed 418 structures, including 195 homes, according to the most recent data. One person is confirmed dead, a number that is currently “not expected to change,” according to Thomas Kyle-Milward, spokesperson for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

A firefighter works at the scene of the Bobcat Fire burning on hillsides near Monrovia Canyon Park in Monrovia, Calif., on Sept. 15, 2020.Ringo Chiu / AFP – Getty Images

In California, authorities have confirmed the deaths of least 25 people from fires that have scorched over 3.3 million acres and destroyed over 4,200 structures.

In Butte County, north of Sacramento, Philip Rubel, 68, and Millicent Catarancuic, 77, were ready to flee their home but changed their minds, county Sheriff Kory Honea said at a news conference Tuesday.

“They had packed their belongings in preparation to evacuate but later decided not to evacuate based on erroneous information that the fire was 51 percent contained,” Honea said.

They were later found dead.

The pair may have gotten the 51-percent containment figure from an update that came before the blaze intensified, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Another female relative who lived at the same property, Susan Zurz, 76, is missing, her son, Zygy Roe-Zurz told the Los Angeles Times.

Rubel and Catarancuic were his uncle and aunt, Zurz said. “I guess they felt that if there was a change in circumstances they would be able to get out, and that proved to be a fatal error,” he said.

The identification of Catarancuic and Rubel’s remains was announced Tuesday.

Sheriff Honea did not immediately respond to a NBC News request for comment on the status of the search for Susan Zurz.

Butte County includes Paradise, a town that was destroyed in the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 and was one of the deadliest fires on record in the state.

In Southern California, firefighters said they have successfully defended Mount Wilson Observatory — a famous astronomical complex perched on a mile-high ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains — according to tweets posted by Angeles National Forest.

“Assisted by the outstanding defensible space of Mt. Wilson Observatory, firefighters installed hand and dozer line – strategically fired, and dropped water creating a strong protection point for Mt. Wilson,” @Angeles_NF wrote.

Despite the progress defending the observatory, the blaze called the Bobcat Fire was only 3 percent contained after having burned over 44,000 acres, according to Angeles National Forest.

In southern Oregon, where wildfires swept the lakeside town of Detroit earlier this week, volunteer firefighter Don Tesdal recalled using a bullhorn to alert his neighbors to the approaching flames.

“The wind was a big part of what caused those fires to do what they did,” Tesdal said in an interview with NBC affiliate KGW in Portland.

The station reported Tuesday that Detroit was “largely destroyed” and showed images of smoke-yellowed skies and the skeletal remains of blackened evergreens.

Tesdal said he posted a video of himself returning to his destroyed home — which he had unsuccessfully attempted to save late Monday night by draping it with hoses and sprinklers before evacuating — because he wanted people to know that “if you’re going back to see the beauty of Detroit, you’re not going to find it in the landscape right now.”

“You need to think about what it is about living in Detroit that really meant a lot to you other than that tree in your yard … because that tree is gone,” Tesdal said.

Smoke from the fires has clogged the skies of Western states and is visible thousands of miles away on the East Coast, including at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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