Two bodies were found inside a charred vehicle in a driveway in the wildfire zone of a raging California blaze that was among several menacing thousands of homes Monday in the Western U.S., officials said. Hot and gusty weather and lightning storms threatened to boost the danger that the fires will keep growing.
Paisley Bamberg and her family spend time outside a shelter for McKinney Fire evacuees in Weed, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. Bamberg said they have stayed there for several days while waiting to return home to Yreka.
The McKinney Fire in Northern California near the state line with Oregon exploded in size to nearly 87 square miles after erupting Friday in the Klamath National Forest, firefighting officials said. It is California’s largest wildfire of the year so far and officials have not yet determined the cause.
The vehicle and the bodies were found Sunday morning in the driveway of a residence near the remote community of Klamath River, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Nearly 5,000 homes and other structures were threatened and an unknown number of buildings have burned, said Adrienne Freeman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.
The smoky blaze cast an eerie, orange-brown hue in one neighborhood where a brick chimney stood surrounded by rubble and scorched vehicles on Sunday. Flames torched trees along State Route 96 and raced through hillsides in sight of homes.
Valerie Linfoot's son, a fire dispatcher, called to tell her their family home of three decades in Klamath River had burned. Linfoot said her husband worked as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter for years and the family did everything they could to prepare their house for a wildfire — including installing a metal roof and trimming trees and tall grasses around the property.
"It was as safe as we could make it, and it was just so dry and so hot and the fire was going so fast," Linfoot told the Bay Area News Group. She said her neighbors have also lost homes.
A deer swims across the Klamath River as flames burn the opposite bank in Klamath National Forest, Calif., on Saturday, July 30, 2022.
“It’s a beautiful place. And from what I’ve seen, it’s just decimated. It’s absolutely destroyed,” she told the news group.
Firefighting crews on the ground were trying to prevent the blaze from moving closer to the town of Yreka, population about 7,500. The blaze was about 4 miles away as of Monday.
A second, smaller fire in the region that was sparked by dry lightning Saturday threatened the tiny California community of Seiad Valley.
Freeman said, “There has been significant damage and loss along the Highway 96 corridor” that runs parallel to the Klamath River and is one of the few roads in and out of the region.
She added: “But just how much damage is still being assessed.”
Erratic storms were expected to move through Northern California again on Monday with lightning that threatened to spark new fires in bone dry vegetation, forecasters said. A day earlier, thunderstorms caused flash flooding that damaged roads in Death Valley National Park and in mountains east of Los Angeles.
In northwestern Montana, winds picked up Monday afternoon on a fire burning in forested land west of Flathead Lake, forcing fire managers to ground all aircraft and leading the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to start evacuating residents on the northeastern corner of the fire.
The fire was putting up a lot of smoke, creating visibility problems for aircraft, said Sara Rouse, a spokesperson for the fire management team.
A firetruck drives along California Highway 96 as the McKinney Fire burns in Klamath National Forest, Calif., Saturday, July 30, 2022.
The fire, which started Friday afternoon near the town of Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation, measured 20 square miles, fire officials said.
The Moose Fire in Idaho 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 Monday.
And a wildfire raging in northwestern Nebraska led to evacuations and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small city of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire began Saturday as two separate fires that merged. It was about 30% contained by early Monday.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday, allowing him more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery effort decisions and to tap federal aid.
Scientists have said climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
The U.S. Forest Service shut down a 110-mile section of the famed Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California and southern Oregon. Sixty hikers in that area were helped to evacuate on Saturday, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, which aided in the effort.
Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.
Many Southern Oregon residents were frustrated with state officials during a public hearing last week over the state’s new wildfire risk map.
In a recent letter, Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden chastised the U.S. secretaries of Interior and Agriculture for not moving fast enough to hire more firefighters amid a staffing crisis and to boost pay. And he implored them to answer basic questions about wildfire mitigation strategy and spending despite a record infusion of new federal money.
A new map identifies wildfire risk levels from zero to extreme on 1.8 million tax lots across Oregon. State officials will use the map to determine which properties will be subject to new fire safety requirements.