The firefighters of north California was battling Monday to gain control of the state’s largest wildfire this year, which has claimed two lives after exploding over the weekend and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
Fanned by high winds and thunderstorms, the McKinney Fire crossed the state’s dry terrain on Sunday to spread across some 52,500 acres of Klamath National Forest near the town of Yreka – and was at zero percent Sunday night according to CalFire.
California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by huge, fast-moving wildfires in recent years, sparked by years of drought and exacerbated by global warming.
The McKinney Fire, which erupted near the Oregon border on Friday, is California’s largest blaze so far this year – though it’s still much smaller than the Dixie Fire in the United States. last year, which burned nearly a million acres.
According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, firefighters found two people dead inside a burnt-out car on Sunday in a man’s driveway in the Klamath River community – on the way to the blaze.
Speaking on ABC News, Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said firefighters suspected the couple had been caught in the fast-moving blaze as they tried to flee.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, saying the fire threatened “critical infrastructure”.
According to the California Office of Emergency Services, more than 2,000 residents of rural neighborhoods in the area were under evacuation orders, mostly in Siskiyou County.
Yreka resident Larry Castle told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he and his wife packed up a few belongings and their three dogs to leave for the night, as other fires in recent years had taught them that the situation could become “very, very serious”.
A spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, quoted by US media, said the fire destroyed more than 100 structures – including homes, a grocery store and a community center – in the area around Yreka, although it did not encroach on the town of about 7,800 people.
“Surrounding areas should be ready to leave if necessary. Please feel free to evacuate,” the county sheriff tweeted.
Route 96 and McKinney Creed Road southwest of the Klamath River have been closed to the public, CalFire said.
Nearly 650 people were working to put out the blaze on Sunday, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.
Search and rescue teams evacuated 60 people who had hiked the area’s popular Pacific Crest Trail, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department in Oregon.
CalFire said the cause of the McKinney fire is still under investigation.
The US Forest Service said thick smoke helped limit the fire’s growth on Sunday, but also meant firefighter planes were “mostly grounded”.
Fire crews were working above Fort Jones and west of Yreka “to stop the fire’s progress,” the USFS said.
The fast-spreading blaze comes just days after the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park destroyed dozens of buildings and forced thousands to evacuate.
California, which is dealing with a painful drought, still has months of fire season ahead of it.
Other parts of the world have also faced intense wildfires this year, as scientists say climate change is making heat waves more frequent and intense, increasing the risk of fires.
On Sunday, Portugal and France were battling major forest fires as temperatures rose sharply in Europe.
In Portugal, a fire broke out in the Mafra district, north of Lisbon, while in France at least four firefighters were seriously injured and highways were closed.
Also over the weekend, hundreds of firefighters battled a blaze in eastern Germany, leaving four injured.