YREKA, Calif. (AP) — Two bodies were found inside a charred vehicle on a road in the fire zone of a raging California wildfire that was among several threatening thousands of homes Monday in the western U.S., officials said. Hot and windy weather and thunderstorms threatened to heighten the risk of wildfires continuing to grow,
The McKinney wildfire in Northern California near the state line with Oregon has exploded in size to nearly 87 square miles (225 square kilometers) after Friday’s eruption in the Klamath National Forest, fire 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 morning in the driveway of a residence near the remote Klamath River community, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Nearly 5,000 homes and other structures in Northern California were threatened and an unknown number of buildings have burned, said Adrienne Freeman, spokeswoman for the US Forest Service.
The smoky blaze cast an eerie, orange-brown hue over a neighborhood where a brick chimney lay surrounded by rubble and burned vehicles on Sunday. Flames burned trees along State Route 96 and raced up hillsides in front of homes.
Valerie Linfoot’s son, a firefighter, called to tell her their family home of three decades on the Klamath River had burned down. Linfoot said her husband worked as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter for years, and the family did everything they could to prepare their home for a fire — including installing a metal roof and trimming trees and tall grass around the house. property.
“It was as safe as we could get, and it was so dry and so hot and the fire was going so fast,” Linfoot told the Bay Area News Group. She said her neighbors have also lost homes.
“It’s a beautiful place. And from what I’ve seen, it’s just decimated. It’s completely destroyed,” he told the news outlet.
Fire crews on the ground were trying to prevent the fire from moving closer to the town of Yreka, population about 7,500. The fire was about four miles (6.4 kilometers) away as of Monday.
A second, smaller fire in the area sparked by dry lightning on Saturday threatened the tiny California community of Seiad.
Freeman said “there was significant damage and loss along the Highway 96 corridor” that runs parallel to the Klamath River and is one of the few roads in and out of the area
He added: “But how much damage is still under assessment.”
Scattered thunderstorms were expected to move into Northern California again on Monday with lightning that threatened to spark new fires in bone-dry vegetation, forecasters said. A day earlier, storms caused flash flooding in Southern California that damaged roads in Death Valley National Park.
In northwestern Montana, a wildfire on the Flathead Indian Reservation that started in grasslands near the town of Elmo on Friday and moved into forested areas had grown to 20 square miles (52 square kilometers) by Monday, fire officials said. Residents of about 20 homes were told to prepare to evacuate.
In Idaho, the elk fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest has burned more than 75 square miles (196 square kilometers) of forest near the town of Salmon and was 21 percent contained by Sunday.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday, allowing him more flexibility to make emergency response decisions and recovery efforts and tap into federal aid.
Scientists said climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
The US Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177 km) section of the famed Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California and southern Oregon, and dozens of hikers in that area were urged to abandon their hikes and head to nearby towns.
Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporter Amy Hanson contributed from Helena, Montana to this report.