A warm drizzle fell on the Weed Community Center on Monday, where nearly all of the 157 cots assembled by the American Red Cross had been occupied by evacuees from the McKinney Fire the previous night.
Dozens of people thronged, some anxious and others annoyed, as the fire raged through nearby Klamath National Forest. Many feared the worst, but for Harlene Schwander, 81, it had already happened: her home, located along Highway 96, was razed by fire.
“If I had known, I would have had more,” Schwander said. “I would have taken my sunglasses! I did not think.
Schwander, an artist, said she was left with little more than the clothes she wore on her back and the handful of family photos she grabbed before running off on Saturday with her three Cavalier King Charles spaniels. .
For residents of Siskiyou County, it was an anxious waiting game as the McKinney Fire spirals out of control, destroying an unknown number of homes and spreading to more than 55,000 acres, making it the largest this year’s fire in California. Authorities said Monday that two people were found dead inside a car in the fire area, but no further details were available.
About 650 firefighters battling the blaze were battling triple-digit heat and possible thunderstorms that could trigger dangerous conditions. There were about 10 other small fires burning in Klamath National Forest.
The fire started around 2:38 p.m. Friday near Highway 96 and McKinney Creek Road southwest of the Klamath River, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The cause is still under investigation.
It has grown explosively and now threatens several rural communities, including the town of Yreka.
Some neighborhoods on the west side of Yreka have been ordered to evacuate, although officials said they saw little progress overnight at the edge of the blaze closest to town.
“Yreka is definitely of concern, as are other populated areas like Fort Jones,” said US Forest Service spokeswoman Caroline Quintanilla. “So we are focused on protecting people, life and property.”
At the Weed Evacuation Center, Schwander assessed everything she lost in the flames.
Among them were original paintings, photographs from his childhood and an antique rocking horse that, according to family tradition, Richard Nixon rode as a baby.
Her daughter, who lives nearby, managed to save a trunk full of jewelry.
“I’ll be naked but loaded with jewelry,” Schwander joked. Despite her good humor though, she wasn’t quite sure what she would do next. She lives on Social Security — about $700 a month — and said she couldn’t afford insurance for her home.
It was an all-too-familiar story for some Siskiyou County residents, to whom fire is no stranger. Weed Mayor Kim Greene said much of the area was rebuilt after the Boles fire in 2014, and many residents still have vivid memories of that fire.
“What the people of Weed who lost and rebuilt will tell you – this is the new normal,” she said. “Our tagline in Weed is, ‘You can cut it down, you can graze it, or you can burn it,'” she said. “The State of California chose to burn it.”