The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

2 die in McKinney Fire, now California’s largest wildfire this year

The blaze has already killed two residents as of Sunday, officials say.

The McKinney Fire in Northern California’s Klamath National Forest grew to more than 51,000 acres on July 31. It has become the state's largest fire in 2022. (Video: AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

With a heat wave hanging over the region, it took only a weekend for a wildfire raging near California’s northern border to swell into the state’s largest blaze this year and turn deadly.

Two people were found dead in a vehicle that burned in the fire’s path Sunday. Officials found the vehicle in a residential driveway near Highway 96, west of Klamath River community, according to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.

The McKinney Fire has burned more than 55,000 acres since it was reported Friday afternoon in the eastern reaches of the Klamath National Forest. The blaze has been fueled by “above normal temperatures and low relative humidity,” according to fire officials.

The fire was completely uncontained as of Monday morning, with a fire watch in effect through Monday “for abundant lightning on dry fuels” from thunderstorms that were forecast to hit the area. “Probability of ignition,” fire officials forecast, was “100%.”

1 in 6 Americans live in areas with significant wildfire risk

About 2,500 residents have been ordered to evacuate in rural Siskiyou County, said Courtney Kreider, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. The police department in Etna, Calif., evacuated Pacific Crest Trail hikers by bus to Oregon on Sunday afternoon. Part of the popular trail was closed from Mount Etna in Northern California to Mount Ashland in southern Oregon, according to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency for the wildfire, which “allows for more flexibility in the face of an unfolding crisis, including the suspension of regulatory statutes that may impede the emergency response and recovery efforts,” his office said in a statement.

“Overnight thunderstorms and lightning, high temperatures, extreme drought conditions, dry fuels, winds, and continued critical fire weather conditions have increased the intensity and spread of these wildfires,” the emergency declaration said.

Kreider estimated that about 100 structures had been destroyed so far, with “significant loss” along the winding Klamath River and the highway that traces alongside it, State Route 96, part of which has been closed. Included in that toll was the Klamath River community’s grocery store, post office and community hall — and the childhood home of a sheriff’s deputy, where his mother was also raised, Kreider said.

Sheriff’s deputies were checking on a “handful” of residents who had declined to evacuate, Kreider added.

The McKinney Fire is more than double the size of the next-largest wildfire in California this year, the Oak Fire, which has burned more than 19,000 acres in Mariposa County. The Oak Fire, which started July 22, was 67 percent contained as of Sunday night.

The largest fire in the state’s history was the August Complex Fire in 2020, which scorched more than 1 million acres. Six of the seven largest wildfires in California history have happened since 2020.

The heat wave that first hit the Pacific Northwest on Friday — sending temperatures in usually brisk Seattle into the 90s — is forecast to sweep across the rest of the country this week. At least seven deaths in the Pacific Northwest are thought to have been related to the uncharacteristically high temperatures in the area.

Meanwhile, large wildfires are burning across the northern Mountain West. The Elmo Fire in northwest Montana has scorched more than 10,000 acres as the Moose Fire in central Idaho has burned more than 48,000 acres.

In western Nebraska, a wildfire that forced evacuations has burned about 13,000 acres and was about 30 percent contained, the Star Herald reported, citing emergency officials.

Loading...