Two people on the way to the McKinney Fire have been found dead as California’s largest blaze of 2022 burned more than 50,000 acres in the Klamath National Forest over the weekend, the sheriff’s office said Monday.
Firefighters found two bodies inside a burned vehicle parked in a residential driveway west of the community of Klamath River Sunday morning, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office reported. The people have not been identified.
There are “a lot of unanswered questions about who these people are,” Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah Larue said at a Monday night news conference. He said the county has not received any missing persons reports.
The out-of-control McKinney Fire grew to 86 square miles Monday morning, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s Klamath National Forest Division. The densely forested region of Northern California has experienced a severe long-term drought, according to AccuWeather.
Lightning and dry conditions caused the blaze to explode across 18,000 acres within hours when it ignited on Friday, CalFire Unified Incident Commander Darryl Laws said Monday night.
“Mother nature wasn’t very kind to us when this fire started,” he said.
But increased humidity and precipitation throughout Monday gave firefighters an edge in battling the blaze, firefighters said. Phil Anzo, CalFire Siskiyou Unit Chief, said firefighters were “blessed” to receive rain on Monday.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
The McKinney Fire remains contained at 0% Monday evening.
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More than 2,000 people were forced from their homes as the growing wildfire raged west of the town of Yreka, about 22 miles south of the California-Oregon border.
A strong smoke inversion — when smoke is low to the ground — helped limit fire growth Sunday, but also kept planes mostly grounded, according to the Forest Service.
Any afternoon thunderstorm activity this week could feature dry lightning strikes that can ignite additional fires, Brandon Buckingham, Meteorologist at AccuWeather said.
Authorities have not confirmed the number of structures damaged or destroyed by the fire, but the popular Klamath River Lodge, which had its heyday from the 1950s to the 1970s, burned down in the fire. The Klamath River Community Hall was also lost. A road sign and a mast with the American flag waving in the wind were all that remained on Sunday.
Crews are still investigating the cause of the McKinney Fire, which started July 29 and quickly overtook the Oak Fire as California’s largest fire of 2022.
The 30-square-mile Oak Fire was 67% contained Monday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Contributor: David Benda, Redding Record Searchlight