Firefighters in Northern California on Monday struggled to gain control of the state’s largest wildfire this year, which claimed two lives, after it blew up over the weekend and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.
Driven by strong winds and thunderstorms, the McKinney Fire sped through the state’s arid terrain Sunday to spread across about 52,500 acres of the Klamath National Forest near the town of Yreka — and was 0 percent contained as of Sunday night, according to CalFire.
California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by massive and fast-spreading wildfires in recent years, caused by years of drought and exacerbated by a warming climate.
The McKinney Fire, which broke out near the Oregon border on Friday, is California’s biggest wildfire so far this year — though it remains much smaller than last year’s Dixie Fire, which burned nearly a million acres.
According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, firefighters Sunday found two people dead in a burned-out car in the driveway of a home in the Klamath River community — the path of the fire.
Speaking on ABC News, Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said firefighters suspected the couple had been caught in the fast-moving fire while trying to escape.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency, saying the fire is threatening “critical infrastructure.”
More than 2,000 residents of rural neighborhoods in the area were under evacuation orders, mostly in Siskiyou County, according to the California Emergency Services Department.
Larry Castle, a Yreka resident, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he and his wife packed up some belongings and their three dogs to head out for the night, as other fires in recent years have shown them the situation is ” very, very serious”.
A spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, quoted by US media, said the fire destroyed more than 100 buildings — including homes, a grocery store and a community center — around Yreka, although it did not enter the town of about 7,800 residents.
“The surrounding areas should be ready to exit if necessary. Please do not hesitate to evacuate,” the county sheriff tweeted.
Highway 96 and McKinney Creed Road southwest of the Klamath River have been closed to the public, according to CalFire.
Nearly 650 people worked Sunday to put out the fire, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.
Search and rescue teams evacuated 60 people who had hiked the area’s popular Pacific Crest Trail, according to the Jackson County, Oregon, Sheriff’s Department.
CalFire said the cause of the McKinney fire is still under investigation.
The US Forest Service said thick smoke helped limit the fire’s growth Sunday but also meant firefighters’ planes were “mostly on the ground.”
Firefighters were working above Fort Jones and west of Yreka “to halt the progression of the fire,” the USFS said.
The fast-spreading fire comes just days after the oak fire near Yosemite National Park destroyed dozens of buildings and forced thousands to evacuate.
California, which is facing a nagging drought, still has a month-long fire season ahead of it.
Other parts of the world have also faced intense wildfires this year, as scientists say climate change is making heat waves more frequent and intense, increasing the risk of fire.
On Sunday, both Portugal and France battled major wildfires as temperatures soared across Europe.
In Portugal, a fire broke out in the Mafra area north of Lisbon, while in France at least four firefighters were seriously injured and motorways closed.
Also over the weekend, hundreds of firefighters in eastern Germany battled a blaze that injured four people.
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