October 7, 2022

At least four people have died and more than 100 homes, sheds and other buildings have burned in California’s McKinney wildfire since it broke out last Friday, officials said. Rain on Sunday and Monday helped firefighters as they tried to control the spread of the blaze, but the blaze remained out of control, authorities said.

On Monday, search teams found two bodies at two separate homes along Route 96 within the perimeter of the fire, bringing the death toll to four, authorities said.

Earlier Sunday, two bodies were found inside a charred vehicle in the driveway of a home west of Yreka near the tiny unincorporated community of Klamath River, which suffered extensive damage, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. Other details were not immediately released.

“It’s really tragic when a fire gets up and moves that fast and basically wipes out a community. And that’s what happened in the Klamath River area,” Mike Lindbery, a spokesman for the fire’s incident management team, said Tuesday. “And unfortunately it didn’t just take out a community, it took out two people’s lives.”

The Northern California wildfire near the state line with Oregon has burned more than 55,000 acres and is the largest of several fires burning in the Klamath National Forest. A smaller fire near the tiny community of Happy Camp forced evacuations and road closures as it burned out of control Tuesday. More wildfires are raging across the western US, threatening thousands of homes.

Western Fires
Sheriff’s Deputy Johnson stands by a burned house as search and rescue workers recover the remains of a victim of the McKinney Fire Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in California’s Klamath National Forest.

Noah Berger / AP

When ash began to fall and his throat burned with smoke, Franklin Thom decided it was time to leave the small town where he grew up on the edge of a national forest in California.

He arrived at a shelter with his daughter and only his medicine, some clothes and his shower shoes. Unlike some others, he was told he had escaped California’s biggest wildfire of the year with his Yreka home still standing.

“Keep your prayers for us,” said 55-year-old Tom.

In northwestern Montana, a wildfire that started Friday near the town of Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation has burned some structures, but authorities said they did not immediately know if they were homes. The fire was 25 square miles Tuesday, 10 percent contained, fire officials said. Some residents were forced to evacuate Monday as gusty afternoon winds fueled the fire.

Idaho’s Moose Fire has burned more than 85 square miles in the Salmon-Challis National Forest while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon. It was 23% contained on Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Coordinating Center.

Flames burn in the Klamath River during the McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest northwest of Yreka, California, on July 31, 2022.

David McNew/AFP via Getty Images

And a wildfire raging in northwest Nebraska prompted evacuations and damaged or destroyed several homes near the small town of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire started Saturday as two separate fires that joined. It was down more than 30% by Tuesday.

California’s McKinney wildfire has become the state’s largest wildfire so far this year after being fueled by weekend winds gusting to 50 mph.

Cloudy weather and scattered rain continued to aid firefighters Tuesday as bulldozers battled wildfires in the small and quaint tourist town of Yreka. Crews carving out other fire zones in steep, rugged terrain also made progress, fire officials said.

The fire was contained about 4 miles from downtown Yreka, population about 7,500.

“We have the weather,” said Todd Mack, incident fire commander for the US Forest Service. “We’ve got the horsepower. And we’re getting it.”

But lightning over the weekend also sparked several smaller fires near the McKinney Fire. And despite the much-needed moisture, forests and fields in the region remained dry.

Among those waiting for the fire at the shelter in Yreka Monday was Paisley Bamberg, 33. She arrived a few months ago from West Columbia, South Carolina, and lived in a motel with her six children, ages 15 to 1-year-old twins. when she was told to move away.

“I started throwing everything on the top of my truck,” but I had to leave a lot of stuff behind, he said.

An old Coca-Cola cooler sits in the ruins of a property in the Klamath River community that burned in the McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest, northwest of Yreka, California, on July 31, 2022.

David McNew/AFP via Getty Images

Bamberg said she had just been hired at an Arby’s restaurant and wondered if she would survive the fire.

“There may not be much when we get back,” he said. “I don’t know if I have a job. The kids had to start school and I don’t know if the school is still standing.”

Bamberg added: “I try to keep my spirits up. I have six little people depending on me. I can’t break down or falter.”

About 2,500 people were ordered to evacuate, but Thom said he knew many people remained in Yreka.

“There are still a lot of people in the city, people who refused to leave,” he said. “A lot of people who don’t have vehicles and can’t go. It’s really sad.”

Thom has lived in Yreka all his life, but said this was the first time he had been threatened by a wildfire.

“I never thought it would ever happen,” he said. “I thought, ‘We’re invincible.’ … That makes me a liar.”

Scientists said climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

The US Forest Service has closed a 110-mile section of the famed Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California and southern Oregon. Authorities helped 60 hikers in the area evacuate Saturday, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon.

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