Jul. 30—A wildfire burning in far Northern California that began around 2 p.m. on Friday had exploded to an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 acres in less than 24 hours due to windy conditions and other extreme weather, officials said.
The McKinney Fire, which is burning about 9 miles from the Siskiyou County seat of Yreka, sent up a massive cumulus cloud and prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency for the county.
Some 2,000 people were under evacuation orders, the governor’s office said. Evacuation warnings were in place in for parts of north and west Yreka by Saturday afternoon. Officials said thunderstorms and erratic winds in the area have made it difficult to determine the trajectory of the fire, which is burning in Klamath National Forest near the Oregon border.
“We still have thunderstorms in the area and that means lightening and erratic winds. I don’t believe that we’re expecting much precipitation,” said Caroline Quintanilla, a public information officer for the Klamath Nation Forest, on Saturday afternoon. “The dry lightening is of a concern.”
Reached by telephone on Saturday around 3 p.m., the public information officer for the Yreka police department did not say whether officials were worried that the fire was going to reach the town, instead pointing to a recent update on the department’s Facebook page. But she stressed that while smoke was coming into Yreka, it did not mean that fire was imminent.
“It has been a crazy time period,” said Yreka resident Kiko Gomez, speaking by phone. “I’m feeling a bit nervous, not only for myself but others.”
Gomez’s neighborhood is not under an evacuation warning yet, but he said after living in the area for over a decade, this is the closest a fire has ever been. He and his family have been calling each other throughout the day, making plans in case they are ordered to leave.
“We are essentially going to grab what we can,” he said.
In a sign of its extreme behavior, the wildfire sent a 50,000 foot pyrocumulonimbus cloud — a plume generated by intensely burning fires — into the air, pushing smoke high above the clouds, climate scientist Daniel Swain noted on Twitter.
On Saturday, officials said firefighters and air resources were continuing an “aggressive extended attack” on the fire, but that the cumulus clouds “have potential to exacerbate fire behavior.”
No information is available on the cause of the fire. The state of emergency declaration from Newsom’s office will help cut red tape and speed resources to the region, including potentially from other states.
The area around the fire was under a fire weather watch through Monday as lightning was expected over dry vegetation. Two additional fires in Siskiyou County — the China 2 and Evans fires — are also prompting evacuation warnings for over 200 residents. The two blazes merged earlier today and have burned more than 300 acres.
Crews from multiple agencies are battling the flames. Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service are currently in charge, but a California Incident Management Team, which coordinates agencies like the Forest Service and Cal Fire, was scheduled to take over Sunday morning.
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