Dozens of hikers were rescued from the Pacific Crest Trail over the weekend as the McKinney Fire continues to ravage the Klamath National Forest in northern California.
Sixty people were rescued Saturday afternoon from the California side of the trail in Red Buttes Wilderness, officials from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon said. The evacuation was an aid with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team.
“The difference with hikers on the trail is that they’re not as mobile,” said Jackson County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Aaron Lewis. “[We] went to trailheads near roads and started rounding up hikers. They weren’t necessarily in immediate danger.
The hikers were transported from Road Junction 1055 at Seattle Bar to Applegate Lake before being taken to Medford or Ashland, Oregon authorities said.
As of Monday morning, the McKinney Fire – the largest this year in California – had burned 55,493 acres in the Klamath National Forest near the California-Oregon border. Authorities said Monday that two people were found dead inside a charred car in the fire area. The inferno is contained at 0%.
The fire is blowing smoke and ash into Jackson County, but there was no direct threat to the community this weekend, officials said.
The US Forest Service has closed 110 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through August 30 because of the fire. The closure stretches from the summit of Mount Etna in northern California to Mount Ashland Campground in southern Oregon.
Violators of the emergency shutdown could face fines of $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization and up to six months in jail.
“If you are on the PCT in this area, please evacuate to the nearest town,” the trail’s website warns.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning through Monday evening for parts of Oregon as fire crews brace for thunderstorms that could worsen conditions.
“We do not have the advantage that we had yesterday of the inversion [layer], which makes it really smoky, but it also means the fire can’t grow — so it puts the fire out,” said US Forest Service spokeswoman Carolina Quintanilla. “Yesterday we didn’t have the explosive growth we had the day before.”
Lightning and gusty winds during upcoming storms could ignite dry fuels and further fuel the blaze, Quintanilla said.
“With thunderstorms, when the cells form, they create erratic winds, and sometimes they bring precipitation but sometimes they don’t,” she said. “The rain we received yesterday from the thunderstorms has made the grass less flammable, but the trees and large brush, which are still very dry from the long drought we are experiencing.”
Thunderstorms are expected around noon and are expected to continue through Tuesday, according to the weather service.