A fast-growing wildfire fueled by stormy winds and high temperatures in Northern California has grown to more than 51,000 acres in two days, becoming the state’s largest wildfire so far this year and forcing evacuations in rural neighborhoods.
The blaze, named the McKinney Fire, began burning dry wood Friday in the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County, California, near the Oregon state line, authorities said.
Authorities had not reported any injuries or deaths associated with the fire as of Sunday morning. Governor Gavin Newsom of California declared a state of emergency for Siskiyou County on Saturday, indicating nearly 2,000 people were under immediate evacuation orders. An additional 1,000 people have since received evacuation orders, said Courtney Kreider, spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.
By Sunday morning, the blaze had not come much closer to the town of Yreka, which has a population of around 7,800. But it had already destroyed more than a dozen homes and other structures in the surrounding area, Ms. Kreider said, and that number is expected to rise.
According to the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon.
“The fire created thunderstorms, which could have started new fires nearby,” said Brad Schaaf, meteorologist with the Medford Weather Service, by telephone on Sunday.
The blaze, which was 0% contained Sunday morning, is one of more than 50 large wildfires and fire complexes that have burned in parts of the United States so far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. In the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, the Oak Fire has burned more than 19,000 acres and threatened thousands of homes and businesses. That fire was around 64% contained as of Sunday.
The McKinney Fire comes at a precarious time for the state which, along with the Pacific Northwest, faces abnormally high temperatures this week as a heatwave blankets the region.
On Saturday, firefighters shifted their focus from battling the perimeter of the blaze to helping residents evacuate and protect structures, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Videos and photos of the blaze showed billowing smoke billowing from the trees as flames covered the Klamath National Forest in an orange glow. Cars fled onto nearly empty roads and officers from the Redding Police Department helped residents evacuate as they watched the forest burn in the distance.
“Beware those in the Far North State,” the State Office of Emergency Services said on Twitter Saturday. “The #McKinneyFire is moving fast and aggressively due to weather conditions.”
Three additional fires in the county — the China 2, Evans and Kelsey Creek fires — merged and burned about 115 acres, Ms. Kreider said. The Kelsey Creek fire was caused by an overnight lightning strike, she added.
Officials and meteorologists were worried Sunday about possible thunderstorms that could develop through Tuesday evening. Mr Schaaf said such thunderstorms could create more fires in the area if the lighting hits.
Smoke from the McKinney Fire, however, could bring temperatures down and “counteract some of those storm ingredients,” he added.
Still, the Klamath National Forest said in a statement Sunday that “these conditions can be extremely dangerous for firefighters” as erratic winds push the fire in random directions.
“It creates a difficult and complex forecast,” Schaaf said.