Two other people were found dead in the fire zone of a massive Northern California wildfire, pushing the death toll to four in the state’s biggest fire of the year, authorities said Tuesday.
Search teams discovered the bodies Monday in separate homes along State Route 96, one of the few roads in and out of the remote region near the Oregon state border, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
“This brings the confirmed death toll to four,” the sheriff said in a statement. “At the moment there are no missing persons.” Other details were not immediately disclosed.
The remains of two people were also found Sunday in a charred vehicle in the driveway of a home near the small Klamath River community that suffered extensive damage during the McKinney Fire, sheriffs officials said.
That fire burned nearly 228 square miles and is the largest of several wildfires in the Klamath National Forest near the California-Oregon border.
“It’s really tragic when a fire starts and moves so fast and basically takes out a community. And that’s what happened in the Klamath River area,” Mike Lindbery, a spokesman for the fire’s incident management team, said Tuesday.
‘Hold out your prayers for us’
As flames rage in California this weekend, Franklin Thom fled his home in the small town of Yreka, where he grew up on the edge of a California national forest.
He reached a shelter with his daughter, his medicines, some clothes and his shower shoes. Unlike some others, he was told that he had escaped while his house was still standing.
“Hold up your prayers for us,” said Thom, 55.
More than 100 homes and other buildings have burned down in the McKinney Fire since it broke out last Friday. Rain helped firefighters control the spread of the fire, but authorities said it continued to burn.
The cause of the McKinney fire is under investigation.
A smaller fire near the small community of Happy Camp forced evacuations and road closures as things spiraled out of control on Tuesday. More fires are raging in the western US, threatening thousands of homes.
Fires Continue in Montana, Idaho, Nebraska
In northwestern Montana, a fire that started Friday near the town of Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation set fire to several buildings, but authorities said they were not immediately sure if there were any homes.
The blaze was 66 square miles (66 square kilometers) on Tuesday, with 10 percent containment, fire officials said. Some residents had to flee Monday as gusts of wind dispelled the fire.
The Moose Fire in Idaho has burned more than 220 square miles in the Salmon-Challis National Forest and endangered homes, mining, and fisheries near the city of Salmon. According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, 23 percent had been curtailed Tuesday.
A wildfire raging in northwestern Nebraska led to evacuations and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small town of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire started Saturday as two separate fires merging. It was capped by more than 30 percent on Tuesday.
‘We have it again’
California’s McKinney Fire grew into the state’s largest wildfire to date this year, after it was fueled by weekend winds with gusts of up to 31 mph.
Cloudy weather and scattered rain continued to help firefighters Tuesday when bulldozers managed to surround the small and scenic tourist destination town of Yreka, California, with firebreaks. Crews cutting firebreaks in steep, rugged terrain also made progress, firefighters said.
The fire was about 4 miles from the center of Yreka, which has about 7,500 inhabitants.
“We’ve got it again,” said Todd Mack, a fire chief with the US Forest Service. “We’ve got the horsepower. And we’re going for it.”
But lightning over the weekend also sparked several smaller fires near the McKinney fire. And despite much-needed moisture, the region’s forests and fields remained bone dry.
Among those awaiting the fire at the Yreka Shelter Monday was Paisley Bamberg, 33. She arrived from West Columbia, SC, a few months ago, living in a motel with her six children, ranging in age from 15 to a year – old twin, when she was told to evacuate.
“I started throwing everything on my truck,” she said, noting that she had to leave a lot of things behind.
Bamberg said she had just been hired at an Arby’s restaurant and wondered if it would survive the fire.
“There might not be much left when we get back,” she said. ‘I don’t know if I have a job. The children were supposed to go to school and I don’t know if the school is still there.’
Bamberg said she was trying to keep her spirits up. “I have six little people who depend on me. I cannot collapse or falter.”
‘I never thought it would ever happen’
About 2,500 people were under evacuation orders, but Thom said he knew many who remained in Yreka.
“There are still a lot of people in the city, people who refused to leave,” he said. “A lot of people who don’t have vehicles and can’t go. It’s really sad.”
Thom has lived in Yreka all his life, but said it was the first time he had been threatened by a wildfire.
“I never thought it would ever happen. I thought, ‘We are invincible,'” he said. “This makes me a liar.”
Scientists have said that over the past three decades, climate change has made the West warmer and drier, and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
The US Forest Service has closed a 177-kilometer stretch of the famous Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California and southern Oregon. According to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, authorities helped evacuate 60 hikers in that area on Saturday.