McKinney Fire, California’s biggest of year, turns deadly
Des Moines, Iowa — California’s largest fire this year has taken at least two lives and was forcing thousands of people to evacuate as it destroyed homes and ripped through the state’s dry terrain, whipped up on Sunday by strong winds and lightning storms.
The McKinney Fire was zero percent contained as it burned in Klamath National Forest in Northern California, CalFire said, spreading over more than 52,000 acres near the city of Yreka.
The blaze was challenging a state that’s already battled several big wildfires this summer.
Siskiyou County Sheriff-Coroner Jeremiah LaRue said, “Fire personnel located two deceased individuals inside a vehicle that was burned in the path of the McKinney Fire. The vehicle was located in a residential driveway.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying the fire had “destroyed homes” and “threatened critical infrastructure” after breaking out on Friday.
The fire was “intensified and spread by dry fuels, extreme drought conditions, high temperatures, winds and lightning storms,” Newsom said in a statement.
More than 2,000 residents were under evacuation orders and some 200 more were under evacuation warnings, according to the California Office of Emergency Services, mostly in Siskiyou County.
“Surrounding areas should be ready to leave if needed. Please don’t hesitate to evacuate,” the Siskiyou County Sheriff tweeted.
Highway 96 and McKinney Creed Road southwest of the Klamath River were closed to the public, CalFire said.
Nearly 650 people were working to douse the blaze as of Sunday, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.
Firefighting forces were sent from nearby Oregon to help containment efforts, the Oregon State Fire Marshal said.
CalFire said the cause of the flames was still “under investigation.”
The US Forest Service said “a heavy smoke inversion” had helped to limit the growth of the fire on Sunday, but also meant that firefighters’ aircraft were also “mostly grounded.”
Fire crews were working above Fort Jones and west of Yreka “to cut off the fire’s progress,” the USFS said.
The record-breaking blaze was sparked just days after the year’s previous largest fire raged in central California.
The Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park broke out in mid-July and spread rapidly, destroying 41 buildings and forcing thousands to evacuate.
California, which is facing a punishing drought, still has months of fire season ahead of it.
In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by huge and fast-moving wildfires, driven by a warming climate.
Other parts of the world have also faced intense wildfires this year.
On Sunday, both Portugal and France were battling major forest fires, as temperatures rose sharply in Europe over the weekend.
Also over the weekend, hundreds of firefighters in Germany battled a blaze in the east of the country, with four people injured, authorities said.
Scientists say climate change is making heatwaves around the world more frequent and more intense, increasing the risk of fires.