Strong winds expected to sweep through the Shasta Valley could hamper progress made in recent days by thousands of firefighters in containing the massive and deadly McKinney Fire burning on the California-Oregon border.
Since it started in the Klamath National Forest late last month, the blaze has killed four people, destroyed 87 homes and consumed 60,044 acres, but its spread has slowed in recent days, the California department forest and fire protection reporting 30% containment. It is the largest fire in the state so far this year.
Forecasts of wind gusts of up to 30 mph pose significant new risks and have prompted the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon, to prepare to issue a red flag warning for Yreka, Calif., and other parts of the Valley along Interstate 5 starting Sunday afternoon.
“When you put a lot of wind on a fire, a lot of bad things can happen,” said Ryan Sandler, one of the meteorologists monitoring the situation. Dangerous wind conditions are expected at least through Monday.
CalFire public information officer Aaron Johnson said some 2,700 crew members will continue to dig and maintain control lines around and through the blaze, but are preparing for the possibility of more flames. intense and new fires.
“With high winds, it could potentially start spot fires,” Johnson said.
Siskiyou County has seen days of 90- and 100-degree heat and very low humidity, and the addition of strong winds puts the fire at risk of becoming “plume dominated” with huge clouds and erratic behavior, Sandler said. Winds could reach up to 30 mph in the valley and up to 20 mph in the more mountainous area where the fire is burning.
“Because the atmosphere is so hot, dry and unstable, fire can indeed create its own weather,” he said.
Some areas of the fire saw up to 3 inches of rain last week, but the intense heat quickly dried out the ground and vegetation, and no thunderstorms are expected next week.