firefighters in northern California fought Monday to get control of the state’s largest wildfire this year, which has claimed two lives since it exploded over the weekend and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.
Fueled by high winds and thunderstorms, the McKinney fire ripped through the dry state of the state on Sunday and spread to about 52,500 acres of the Klamath National Forest near the city of Yreka, and was zero percent contained as of Sunday evening, according to CalFire.
In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been devastated by huge and rapidly spreading wildfires, triggered by years of drought and exacerbated by a warming climate.
The McKinney Fire, which broke out Friday near the Oregon border, is California’s largest wildfire this year, though it remains much smaller than last year’s Dixie Fire, which burned nearly one million acres.
According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, on Sunday, firefighters found two people dead in a burned-out car on the driveway to a house in the village of Klamath River – in the path of fire.
Speaking to ABC News, Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said firefighters suspect the couple were caught in the rapidly spreading fire as they tried to flee.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, saying the fire threatened “critical infrastructure.”
More than 2,000 rural residents in the area have been ordered to evacuate, mostly from Siskiyou County, according to the California Office of Emergency Management.
Yreka resident Larry Castle told the Sacramento Bee that he and his wife packed a few things and their three dogs to leave for the night, as other fires in recent years have taught them the situation can get “very, very serious.”
A spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, quoted by US media, said the fire destroyed more than 100 structures, including homes, a grocery store and a community center, in the area surrounding Yreka, though it did not affect the city’s about 7,800 people.
“Neighborhoods should be ready to leave if necessary. Please don’t delay evacuating,” the county sheriff tweeted.
Highway 96 and McKinney Creed Road southwest of the Klamath River have been closed to the public, CalFire said.
About 650 people were working to put out the fire as of Sunday, according to the National Wildfire Coordination Group.
According to the Jackson County, Oregon Sheriff’s Department, search and rescue teams evacuated 60 people who were walking along the area’s popular Pacific Ridge Trail.
CalFire said the cause of the McKinney fire is still under investigation.
The US Forest Service said thick smoke helped limit the fire’s spread on Sunday, but it also meant firefighters’ planes “mostly came to a halt.”
Fire crews were working on Fort John and west of Yreka “to stop the fire from spreading,” according to the USFS.
The fast-spreading blaze comes just days after an oak fire near Yosemite National Park destroyed dozens of buildings and forced thousands to evacuate.
In California, which is facing a severe drought, there are still several months of fire season ahead.
Other parts of the world have also experienced intense wildfires this year as climate change is making heat waves more frequent and intense, increasing the risk of wildfires, scientists say.
On Sunday, Portugal and France battled major wildfires as temperatures soared across Europe.
In Portugal, a fire broke out in the Mafra region north of Lisbon, and in France, at least four firefighters were seriously injured and motorways were closed.
Also over the weekend, hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze in eastern Germany, injuring four people.