Deadly wildfire in California wipes out picturesque river town

KLAMATH RIVER, Calif. (AP) — Roger Derry, 80, and his son have lived together in the tiny picturesque village of Northern California’s Klamath River for more than 40 years.

They know most of the town’s 200 or so residents.

Now, they are one of the few families left after California’s biggest and deadliest wildfire of the year tore through the modest homes and shops of the riverside town.

“It’s very sad. It’s very disappointing,” Derry said. “Some of our older houses, 100-year-old houses, are gone. It’s a small community. Good people, good people, for the most part, live here and with the before long they will be rebuilt. But it will take some time now.”

The McKinney wildfire that broke out last Friday remained out of control despite progress as firefighters took advantage of storms that dropped rain that temporarily shed some heat from the parched, scorched area near the Oregon border.

The fire has burned more than 88 square miles (228 square kilometers) and is the largest of several wildfires burning in the Klamath National Forest.

The fire was not growing Tuesday, and fire officials said crews were able to use bulldozers to carve firebreaks along a ridge to protect homes and buildings in the Yreka County seat.

However, several thousand people remained under evacuation orders, 100 buildings from homes to greenhouses have burned and at least four bodies have been found in the area.

The devastation of a small community has unfortunately become a real possibility as wildfires intensify in the Western United States.

Wildfires in Montana, Idaho and Nebraska have destroyed some homes and continue to threaten communities.

Just four years ago, a massive wildfire in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills virtually destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise, killing 85 people.

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.

When it started, the McKinney fire was just a few hundred acres, and firefighters believed they would quickly bring it under control. But then a storm cell came in with wild gusts of wind that within hours had pushed it into an unstoppable fire.

Roger Derry and his son, whose name is spelled Roger Derry, decided not to evacuate when the fire broke out and said their home, which they tried to protect by cutting nearby brush, survived. They also introduced firefighters and dug out fire pits in the neighborhood.

But they could see the fire as it tore its way through the places around them.

“When this fire came over the ridge, it had 100-foot flames for about 5 miles and the wind was blowing. It was going down like a solid blower,” Roger Derry said. “There was nothing to stop it.”

The fire destroyed most of the homes, including those in a trailer park, along with the post office, community center and other scattered businesses.

The cause has not been determined.

In northwestern Montana, a wildfire that started Friday near the town of Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation has burned some structures, but authorities said they did not immediately know if they were homes. The fire was 25 square miles (66 square kilometers) on Tuesday, 10 percent contained, fire officials said. Some residents were forced to evacuate Monday as gusty afternoon winds fueled the fire.

Idaho’s Moose Fire has burned more than 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) in the Salmon-Challis National Forest while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon. It was 23% contained on Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Coordinating Center.

And a wildfire raging in northwest Nebraska prompted evacuations and damaged or destroyed several homes near the small town of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire started Saturday as two separate fires that joined. It was down more than 30% by Tuesday.

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Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana. Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska. and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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