REDDING, Calif — Eddy Bledsoe frantically searched for his wife and two great-grandchildren for days after a wildfire blazed through his neighborhood Thursday night and destroyed his home.
His family’s calls to law enforcement, evacuation centers and hospitals yielded no new information, so they took to Facebook, asking others to look out for a 70-year-old woman with two children.
“I’d call (evacuation centers and authorities) until I’d fall over,” he said.
But by Saturday afternoon, Bledsoe, 76, had his answer.
He went to the coroner’s office to confirm that his wife of 27 years, Melody Bledsoe, 70, and his two great-grandchildren, James Roberts, 5, and his sister, Emily, 4, were all dead.
“I’m just devastated,” he said. “All she lived for were them kids and me.”
The night the flames overwhelmed their home, Eddy Bledsoe was with the three and had briefly stepped out to go to the store nearby.
“I didn’t think the fire could cross the river,” he said. “Within 15 minutes, it burned my house down.”
When he heard how close the fire was, he rushed home and was only a block away from getting to his wife and great-grandchildren when he found the roads were closed and nobody could go through.
He called the three and his great-grandson, James, told him that fire had come through the back door.
“You’ve got to come and get us,” Bledsoe recalled James telling him. “I talked to her and my grandkids until they died.”
Still, Bledsoe made his desperate calls, refusing to give up hope in the ensuing days.
Redding Police officers on Saturday had gone to the mobile home at 10:30 a.m. to check on the family. At the time, they said they had not seen evidence anyone was dead, but they were investigating.
By afternoon, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said that, while the bodies have not been recovered, there is "overwhelming evidence" people died in the home.
The mobile home was consumed by fire, the roof collapsed and it covered the area underneath, which is preventing officials from getting inside, Bosenko said.
Bledsoe said in the 10 years they’d lived in that neighborhood, they’d never experienced such a fire. He and Melody Bledsoe had moved to Redding in the mid-2000s and were very close to their family of nine children, 35 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.
“She took care of me and them kids like we were a team,” he said. “Every day, every day of her and my life, I told her, ‘I want to thank you for being my lady.’”
Eddy Bledsoe said he’ll always remember his wife as “the best lady in the world” and recalled how a plumbing job at her home years ago led to their romance.
“I think she asked me if I wanted lunch, and we just hit it off,” he said.
He lovingly referred to Melody as his “Squirrel,” a pet name he coined for her during their trucking days. He said she’d pile things into their diesel truck, just like a squirrel that collected nuts.
“She’s my squirrel,” he said. “I want everybody to know she was the greatest woman in the world. Not a selfish bone in her body.”
Chrystal Imel, 27, of Redding said Melody Bledsoe was her stepfather’s best friend, and she often referred to her as “Mama Squirrel.”
When Imel’s father died nine years ago, Melody and Eddy Bledsoe took her in for three years, helped her get back on her feet while she attended school and took care of her 80-year-old grandfather.
“She was the best mom I never had,” Imel said.
Imel said she was with Melody Bledsoe and the two children Thursday night at 6 p.m. to check in on them, and told them they should be ready, just in case.
“It’s killing me that the fire spread so fast,” Imel said.
Devastated to lose three people in his family, Eddy Bledsoe said he plans to follow through on a promise he made to little James, who always wanted a chainsaw.
He plans buy a chainsaw, add the children’s ashes to the gas tank and mount it on his wall.
“They’ll go with me wherever I go,” he said.
A family friend, Donald Kewley, has established a GoFundMe account to help Eddy Bledsoe. It can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/ed-bledsoe-and-family-lost-all.