SAN DIEGO–Wildfires in California and Montana exploded in size overnight amid windy, hot conditions and were quickly encroaching on neighborhoods, forcing evacuation orders for over 100 homes Saturday, while an Idaho blaze was spreading.
In California’s Klamath National Forest, the fast-moving McKinney fire, which started Friday, went from charring just over 1 square mile to scorching as much as 62 square miles by Saturday in a largely rural area near the Oregon state line, according to fire officials. At least 12 residences were destroyed by the fire and wild animals fled the scene to escape the flames.
“The area is experiencing erratic winds, thunderstorms and high temperatures. We’re currently in triple-digit temperatures,” Caroline Quintanilla of Klamath National Forest spokeswoman.
California Gov. As the flames grew, Gavin Newsom declared an emergency on Saturday. Newsom has more options to respond to emergencies and recover faster, and can access federal assistance thanks the proclamation.
According to the statement of the governor, it also permits “firefighting resource from other states to aid California crews in fighting the fires.”
A pickup truck and a trailer that burned overnight in the middle of state Highway 96 are seen destroyed by the McKinney Fire in the community of Klamath River, Calif., on July 30, 2022. (Scott Stoddard/Grants Pass Daily Courier via AP
Meanwhile in Montana, the Elmo wildfire nearly tripled in size to more than 11 square miles within a few miles of the town of Elmo. Roughly 200 miles to the south, Idaho residents remained under evacuation orders as the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest charred more than 67.5 square miles in timbered land near the town of Salmon. It was 17 percent contained.
A significant amount of vegetation had been fueling McKinney’s fire, according to Tom Stokesberry (a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in the area).
“It is a dangerous fire because the geography in that area is rugged and steep, and it hasn’t burned for a while,” said he.
A small fire had also been lit near the Seiad town, Stokesberry stated. He said that lightning was forecast for the area over the coming days and resources were being brought from California to fight the fires.
McKinney’s rapid growth required crews to move from controlling the fire’s perimeter to protecting homes and other critical infrastructure such as water tanks, power lines and helping with evacuations in California’s Northernmost County of Siskiyou.
The McKinney Fire burns in Siskiyou County, Calif., as seen from the Antelope Mountain Yreka 1 observation camera, early on July 30, 2022. (Cal Fire via AP)
Law enforcement and deputies knocked on the doors of residents in Fort Jones and the county seat, Yreka to remind them to evacuate their animals onto trailers. Because there was no cell service in certain areas, automated calls were also being made to land phones.
Over 100 homes were ordered evacuated and authorities were warning people to be on high alert. Smoke from the fire caused the closure of portions of Highway 96.
The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the U.S. Forest Service closed a 110-mile section of the trail from the Etna Summit to the Mt. Ashland Campground, southern Oregon
Oregon State Rep. Dacia Grayber is a Firefighter and was camping near the California border with her husband when they were woken by gale force winds just after midnight.
The sky was glowing with strikes of lightening in the clouds, while ash was blowing at them, though they were in Oregon, about 10 miles away. Grayber stated that the intense heat of the fire had created a huge pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which are capable of producing its own weather system, including thunderstorms and winds.
” These were the strongest winds that I have ever seen and our family is used to large fires,” she stated. I thought the wind was going to blow off our roof tent. We did it .”
On their way back, they encountered hikers who were on the Pacific Coast Trail and fled to safety.
” The most frightening thing for us was wind velocity”, she stated. It went from being a cool, breezy night to being hot and dry with hurricane force winds. This happens most often at night, but it doesn’t happen with a fire. It’s my hope that this will stop, but it seems like things are going to get worse .”
In western Montana, the Elmo fire, which was driven by wind, forced residents and livestock to evacuate their homes. It raced through timber and grass, according The National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho. According to the agency, it could take almost a month for the fire to be contained.
Smoke shut down a portion of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo because of the thick smoke, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.
Fighters from many agencies, including Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fire Division were involved in fighting Saturday’s fire. Six helicopters were making drops on the fire, aided by 22 engines on the ground.
In Idaho, more than 930 wildland firefighters and support staff were battling the Moose fire Saturday and protecting homes, energy infrastructure and the Highway 93 corridor, a major north-south route.
A red flag warning was issued to warn of bad weather. The forecast called for dry thunderstorms with wind, lightning and little rain.
Crews have made great progress fighting another fire in California, which forced thousands to evacuate Yosemite National Park this month. The Oak fire was 52 percent contained by Saturday, according to a Cal Fire incident update.