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McKinney Fire in Northern California kills 2, engulfs over 55,000 acres

McKinney Fire
Flames burn to the Klamath River during the McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest northwest of Yreka, California, on July 31, 2022. |

Two people were found dead in a burnt car in the path of the fast-moving McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest in Northern California, the largest in the state this year. Officials said the fire burned more than 55,000 acres as of Monday night and remained 0% contained.

The wildfire, which began Friday afternoon in Siskiyou County near the California-Oregon border, had led to the shutdown of Highway 96 and caused thousands to evacuate, Cal Fire said Monday.

"At approximately 9:57 a.m. (Sunday), fire personnel located two deceased individuals inside a vehicle that was burned in the path of the #McKinneyFire. The vehicle was in a residential driveway along Doggett Creek Road, off Highway 96, west of the community of Klamath River," Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

The sheriff's office said life-saving efforts, protecting and patrolling evacuated areas would continue to be a priority, and all law enforcement agencies would assist with the wildfire.

According to fire officials, persistent drought conditions "caused extremely dry, receptive fuels which have resulted in rapid fire spread."

"Mother Nature wasn't very kind to us when this fire started," Cal Fire Unified Incident Commander Darryl Laws said in a community briefing Monday.

Fire officials initially believed there were enough resources to battle the blaze, Laws said, but "thunder cell came over the top of it and our dreams were shattered."

"It went to 18,000 acres immediately, in probably a very short time, a few hours, and it turned 180 degrees, and ran right at the community Klamath River."

At least a dozen residences had burned in the blaze near Yreka, a community of about 7,800 in Siskiyou County, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The National Weather Service issued red-flag warnings Sunday "for a threat of dry lightning and strong outflow winds associated with thunder cells," adding that these conditions "can be extremely dangerous for firefighters, as winds can be erratic and extremely strong, causing fire to spread in any direction."

Besides the McKinney Fire, three smaller fires — the China 2 Fire, the Evans Fire and Kelsey Creek fires — are also raging in the county.

At least 63 Pacific Crest Trail hikers on the California side of the Red Buttes Wilderness were evacuated Sunday due to smoke and ash from the fire, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office said.

The Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal said Sunday it was sending firefighters and support resources from Marion, Linn and Clackamas Counties to Northern California to help contain the wildfire. More than 1,300 firefighters were battling the blaze from multiple agencies by Monday, according to CNN.

OSFM said it received a request for resources from California through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, KDRV.com reported, adding that three task forces, including 41 firefighters, 12 engines and three water tenders, would arrive late Sunday afternoon.

"Our office has a long-standing mutual aid relationship with Cal OES, and we are more than willing to lend a helping hand," Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple was quoted as saying. "Last summer, California sent resources to help on the Bootleg Fire in our time of need. The partnership between our two states has the same end goal, protecting communities and saving lives."

Another fire in California's Mariposa County, the Oak Fire, which started over a week ago in the Sierra National Forest, was only 64% contained and burned nearly 20,000 acres as of Sunday, the WSJ reports. 

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