California man struggles to cope with loss of family in fire

Ed Bledsoe tries to hold back tears as he searches through what remains of his home, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Redding, Calif. Bledsoe's wife, Melody, great-grandson James Roberts and great-granddaughter Emily Roberts were killed at the home in the Carr Fire. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Ed Bledsoe swears the sound of angels was the last thing he heard before a call from his great-grandson abruptly ended and a wildfire killed the 5-year-old boy, his 4-year-old sister and their great grandmother while consuming their Redding, California, home.

So the irony, the message or whatever you want to call it wasn’t lost on him that angel figurines were among the few things he has recovered while scavenging through the rubble of his charred home.

“I found three angels, a little boy, a little girl and I found my wife’s big angel, a woman reading Scripture,” Bledsoe said Monday after paying another visit to the remains of the home where he and his wife were raising their great-grandson, James Roberts Jr., and his 4-year-old sister, Emily.

He also recovered a small photo of his wife, Melody, and a few other keepsakes, including a knife he had taught his great-grandson to make while he made one for himself.

“I found his knife but not mine,” Bledsoe, a 76-year-old handyman — his voice breaking — said by phone from a son’s house in Shasta Lake.

In three weeks, the Carr Fire that took his home has consumed 317 square miles (510 kilometers), destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed eight people. It’s 61 percent contained.

The flames had appeared to be a safe distance away on July 26, when Bledsoe left home to run a few errands. Soon his wife, and then his great-grandson, called to tell him to hurry home because flames were at the back door.

Authorities say they had gone door to door warning people to evacuate, but Bledsoe said he never got the notice. Authorities have said they would investigate.

Since the tragedy, Bledsoe has kept busy salvaging keepsakes from the house and planning a memorial later this month.

He still refers to his wife and great-grandchildren in the present tense, saying he copes by sometimes imagining they’re just on vacation and will return.

In the meantime he’s fashioning a headstone out of a crystal ball that he made for his wife years ago and pieces of jade that survived the fire.

He intends to engrave each name on it and place it in his new home when he finds one.

“I tell myself I’m going to see them again when they come back to me,” he says. “Or if they don’t come back to me I’m going to see them again when I go over that hill for the last time.”