YREKA, Calif. — Two bodies were found inside a charred vehicle in a driveway in the wildfire zone of a raging California blaze that is among several burning in the western U.S. amid hot, dry and gusty conditions that boost the danger that the fires will keep growing, officials said Monday.
The McKinney Fire in Northern California near the stateline with Oregon exploded in size Sunday to more than 82 square miles (212 square km) after erupting Friday in the Klamath National Forest, firefighting officials said. It is California’s largest wildfire of the year so far and officials have not determined the cause.
The vehicle and the bodies were found Sunday in the driveway of a residence near the remote community of Klamath River, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
The blaze cast an eerie, orange-brown hue, in one neighborhood where a brick chimney stood surrounded by rubble and scorched vehicles on Sunday. Flames torched trees along State Route 96 and raced through hillsides in sight of homes.
Firefighting crews on the ground were trying to prevent the blaze from moving toward the town of Yreka, population about 7,500, about four miles (6.4 kilometers) away as of Sunday.
A second, smaller fire in the region that was sparked by dry lightning Saturday threatened the tiny California community of Seiad. Overall, officials said about 400 structures were threatened by the two fires.
Authorities have not confirmed the extent of the damages far in the areas that have burned, saying assessments would begin when it was safe to go inside them.
A third fire, which was on the southwest end of the McKinney blaze, prompted evacuation orders for around 500 homes Sunday, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.
The office said crews had been on the scene of the fire since late Saturday but by the following morning it “became active and escaped its containment line.” The childhood home of one sheriff’s deputy burned on Friday, Kreider said,
Thunderstorms that brought barrages of lightning and threatened to spark new fires in dry fuel beds in Northern California were expected to move out of the area starting Monday, forecasters said.
In northwest Montana, a fire sparked in grasslands near the town of Elmo had grown to about 17 square miles (44 square km) Sunday after advancing into forest.
Crews worked along edges of the fire, and aircraft were expected to continue to make water and retardant drops to help slow the fire’s advance, said Sara Rouse, a spokesperson for the interagency team assigned to the fire. High temperatures and erratic winds that can help fan flames were predicted, she said.
In Idaho, the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest has burned on more than 75 square miles (196 square km) in timbered land near the town of Salmon and was 21% contained by Sunday.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday, allowing him more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery effort decisions and to tap federal aid.
Scientists have said climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
The U.S. Forest service shut down a 110-mile (177 kilometer) section of the famed Pacific Coast trail in Northern California and southern Oregon and hikers in that area were urged to abandon their treks and head to the nearest towns.