Firefighters in Northern California battled Monday to gain control of the state’s largest wildfire this year, which claimed two lives after they exploded in size over the weekend and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.
Chased by high winds and lightning storms, the McKinney Fire tore through the state’s arid terrain on Sunday to spread across some 21,246 hectares (52,500 acres) of Klamath National Forest near the city of Yreka — and was zero percent contained as of Sunday night. , according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
California and other parts of the western United States have been plagued by massive and fast-moving wildfires in recent years, triggered by years of drought and exacerbated by a warming climate.
The McKinney Fire, which broke out Friday near the Oregon border, is California’s largest wildfire to date this year — though it remains much smaller than last year’s Dixie Fire, which destroyed nearly a million acres.
According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, firefighters found two dead on Sunday in a burned-out car in the driveway of a home in the Klamath River community — in the path of the fire.
Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said on ABC News that firefighters suspected the couple was caught in the fast-moving fire as they tried to flee.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency, saying the fire threatens “critical infrastructure.”
More than 2,000 residents of rural neighborhoods in the area were under evacuation orders, according to the California Office of Emergency Services, mostly in Siskiyou County.
Yreka resident Larry Castle told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he and his wife had packed a few belongings and their three dogs to spend the night, as other fires in recent years had taught that the situation was “very, very could become serious.
A spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, quoted by US media outlets, said the fire destroyed more than 100 buildings — including homes, a grocery store and a community center — in the Yreka area, though it did not affect the city of Yreka. about 7,800 people.
State Route 96 and McKinney Creed Road southwest of the Klamath River were closed to the public, Cal Fire said.
Nearly 650 people were working as of Sunday to put out the blaze, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.
Search and rescue teams have evacuated 60 people who had hiked the popular Pacific Crest Trail in the area, according to the Jackson County, Oregon sheriff.
Cal Fire said the cause of the McKinney fire is still under investigation.
The US Forest Service (USFS) said thick smoke had helped limit the fire’s growth on Sunday, but also meant the firefighters’ planes were “mainly grounded.”
Fire crews were working over Fort Jones and west of Yreka “to cut off the fire’s progress,” according to the USFS.
The rapidly spreading fire comes just days after the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park destroyed dozens of buildings and forced thousands to evacuate.