Thousands of people scrambled to escape before the walls of flames descended from forested hills onto their neighborhoods Thursday.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said he expects to find several of those people alive and just out of touch with loved ones.
Crews stretched to their limits across the state are fighting flames that have claimed the lives of two firefighters and six civilians.
Eight-one-year-old Don Ray Smith was a bulldozer operator who was helping clear vegetation in the path of the wildfire when he died. Friday afternoon the Redding Fire Department confirmed that Inspector Jeremy Stoke perished.
The victims identified by relatives on Facebook and in news media reports were James Roberts, 5, his sister Emily, 4, and their great-grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, 70. He rushed back to his home to try to retrieve possessions but by the time he arrived, authorities had closed the road.
"It's a hard fire to deal with", Austin said, noting the weather was hot and the terrain rugged.
Redding Police Sergeant Todd Cogle stressed that the number of those unaccounted for had fluctuated during the past two days - from as many as 20 to as few as 12 - as some who were reported missing turned up safe while others were added to the list. The Ferguson Fire near Yosemite, which has charred 46,675 acres, was 29 percent contained.
Some evacuees from a deadly Northern California wildfire say they are frustrated because they don't know whether their homes are standing or were destroyed.
Fed up, Tim Bollman, hiked 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) up steep terrain to check on the home he built for his wife and two sons 13 years ago.
California fire officials say wildfires around the state have forced roughly 50,000 people from their homes.
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She said the state has experienced considerably more fire activity so far this year than it did over the same period of time last year, and the worst part of the fire season was still to come.
Two firefighters were killed and the latest tally of 500 destroyed structures was sure to rise.
The Carr fire swept into Redding on Thursday night and has so far burned more than 33,000 hectares, with only 5 per cent containment, officials said. It has burned 150 acres (61 hectares). Those fires had burned almost 100 square miles (260 square kilometers).
More than 3,000 fire personnel are battling the flames with more than 300 engines and 17 helicopters, Cal Fire reported. It has left Keswick, a town of 450, in smoldering ruins, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
Decker said 5-year-old James idolized his great-grandfather and wanted to wear suspenders just like him.
And due to the ongoing fire-fighting efforts, the City of Redding and the California Division of Drinking Water request that all City of Redding residents and businesses, especially those not directly affected by the fire, please conserve water.
More than 38,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in the city of Redding as the fires enter their sixth day.
Anna Noland, 49, was evacuated twice in three days before learning through video footage that the house she last saw under dark and windy skies had burned.
Woodley said Bledsoe did everything she could to save the children. It pushed southwest of Redding, the largest city in the region, toward the tiny communities of Ono, Igo and Gas Point, where scorching heat, winds and bone-dry conditions complicated firefighting efforts.