Authorities said two bodies were found inside a burned vehicle in the path of a raging Northern California wildfire that is one of several major blazes burning across the U.S. West amid hot, dry, gusty conditions.
The McKinney Fire exploded in size to more than 82 square miles (212 square km) after erupting Friday in a largely unpopulated area in the Klamath National Forest just south of the Oregon state line, according to a Sunday night incident report. It is California’s largest wildfire of the year so far.
Two bodies were found Sunday inside the charred vehicle located in a residential driveway near the remote community of Klamath River, California, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Monday. The victims were not immediately identified.
Flames torched trees along State Route 96 and raced through hillsides in sight of homes on Sunday. The blaze cast an eerie, orange-brown hue, in one neighborhood where a brick chimney stood surrounded by rubble and scorched vehicles. Crews on the ground worked to keep the fire from moving east into the town of Yreka, home to 7,500 people.
A second, smaller fire just to the west that was sparked by dry lightning Saturday threatened the tiny town of Seiad. About 400 structures were under threat from the two California fires. Authorities have not confirmed the extent of the damage yet, saying assessments would begin when it was safe to reach the area.
A third fire, which was on the southwest end of the McKinney blaze, prompted evacuation orders for around 500 homes Sunday, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office. The office said crews had been on the scene of the fire since late Saturday but by the following morning it “became active and escaped its containment line.”
Several people in the sheriff’s office have been affected by evacuation orders due to the fires “and they’re still showing up to work so, (a) very dedicated crew,” she said. A deputy lost his childhood home to fire on Friday, she said.
Thunderstorms that brought barrages of lightning and threatened to spark new fires in dry fuel beds in Northern California were expected to move out starting Monday, forecasters said.
In northwest Montana, a fire sparked in grasslands near the town of Elmo had grown to about 17 square miles (44 square km) Sunday after advancing into forest. Crews worked along edges of the fire, and aircraft were expected to continue to make water and retardant drops to help slow the fire’s advance, said Sara Rouse, a spokesperson with the interagency team assigned to the fire. High temperatures and erratic winds were expected, she said.
A section of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo that had been closed was reopened with drivers asked to watch for fire and emergency personnel. Visibility in the area was poor, Rouse said.
In Idaho, the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest has burned on more than 75 square miles (196 square km) in timbered land near the town of Salmon. It was 21% contained by Sunday. Pila Malolo, planning operations section chief on the fire, said in a Facebook video update that hot, dry conditions were expected to persist Sunday. Officials said they expected fire growth in steep, rugged country on the fire’s south side.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday as the McKinney Fire intensified. The proclamation allows Newsom more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery effort decisions and access federal aid.
California law enforcement knocked on doors in the towns of Yreka and Fort Jones to urge residents to get out and safely evacuate their livestock onto trailers. Automated calls were being sent to land phone lines as well because there were areas without cell phone service.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the U.S. Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177-km) section of the trail from the Etna Summit to the Mt. Ashland Campground in southern Oregon.
In Hawaii, the Maui County Emergency Management Agency said a brush fire was 90% contained but a red flag warning was in effect for much of Sunday.
And in north Texas, firefighters continued in their effort to contain the 2-week-old, 10 1/2-square-mile (27 1/3-square-kilometer) Chalk Mountain Fire. The crews now report 83% containment of the fire that has destroyed 16 homes and damaged five others about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Fort Worth. No injuries have been reported.