Aug. 1 (UPI) — At least two people have died as a result of the McKinney Fire in Northern California, authorities said, which is now the largest wildfire the state has seen so far this year.
The bodies of both were found inside a burned car in the path of the fire as more than 2,000 people in the nearby town of Yreka remain under evacuation orders.
The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that the vehicle was found in a residential driveway. Further details were not immediately known.
The fire began Friday in Klamath National Forest near California’s border with Oregon and has since burned up about 55,500 acres, according to Cal Fire. The cause is still under investigation, though a second fire named China 2 was started by a lightning strike and has burned more than 1,600 acres.
A heavy smoke inversion over the McKinney Fire helped limit growth Sunday, but also kept firefighting aircraft mostly grounded, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement. Cal Fire said the blaze was 0% contained early Monday.
Firefighter and Oregon state Rep. Dacia Grayber said on Saturday that she was backcountry camping with her husband when she woke up to orange skies, lightning and blowing ash.
“In 22+ years of fire, I’ve never experienced anything like this fire behavior at night,” Grayber said in a tweet. “It felt absolutely surreal and not just a little apocalyptic.”
The National Weather Service said Monday that “abundant lightning on dry fuels” in the area is expected through Tuesday, posing a risk of increased fire activity.
“These conditions can be extremely dangerous for firefighters, as winds can be erratic and extremely strong, causing fire to spread in any direction,” the Forest Service added.
“New lightning fires are still being detected, including one overnight at the top of Doggett Creek north of the main fire.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for Siskiyou County and said the McKinney Fire has “destroyed homes” and “threatened critical infrastructure.”
At more than 55,000 acres, the McKinney Fire is California’s largest so far this year. Farther south, the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park has blackened fewer than 20,000 acres and is almost 70% contained, Cal Fire said Monday.
Other western fires in Montana and Idaho also ballooned over the weekend. Officials said the Elmo Fire, about 90 miles north of Missoula, grew by nearly 60%. That fire is believed to be human-caused and was 0% contained early Monday.