By Rachel Smith
It is hard to believe it has just been two days since the McKinney fire was ignited. Over the last week, we have substantially increased the number of fire resources ready and waiting on the forest for a substantial fire event. As forest Fire Management Officer Mike Appling put it, we entered the weekend loaded for bear – and we got a dozen. Klamath Forest Service firefighters along with Siskiyou Unit CalFire firefighters and out of area resources have jumped on and caught numerous new starts across the county coming from the lightning we have experienced since Tuesday.
The McKinney fire started Friday afternoon. Though the cause is still under investigation, it is clear this fire was not caused by lightning. A USFS specialized regional team is currently in place investigating the fire’s cause, and will be actively working to identify what was responsible. Though we had aviation and ground-based resources on the fire within minutes of its report, the fire grew explosively, driven by extreme temperatures (one of our firefighters at Oak Knoll reported the temperature as 102 at 3 a.m.) and unpredictable winds. In the first hours, we know we lost numerous structures in and around the community of Klamath River. We know that many homes burned to the ground, a tragic loss that compounds the loss of homes and property in catastrophic fires over the past few years.
As of tonight, multiple communities including my hometown of Yreka sit under evacuation orders or warnings as this fast-moving fire travels through areas of National Forest and private industry lands, many of which have not burned in recorded history. We are lucky to be supported by emergency responders with strong grounding in Siskiyou County – yesterday morning at 10:30 a.m. CalFire and the Forest Service entered unified command. Leading firefighting efforts for the Forest Service is Todd Mack, the Shasta-Trinity National Forest Fire Management Officer and Incident Commander for the California Interagency Team 10 (with the KNF’s own forest AFMO Heather McRae as his Operations Section Chief, and numerous other Siskiyou County locals working on the team). On the CalFire side, Chief Daryl Laws is Unified Incident Commander. Throughout the day, the two ICs have been working together to prioritize resources for the evolving incidents across the forest, including diverting engines and aerial resources to the rapidly expanding Kelsey incident. We have additional resources coming in from around the country. For now, we are the top priority for resources, and Chief Anzo and I have asked the Team to capitalize on the opportunity to get black on the map and get us some containment on our fires.
As I type this message, my phone is showing new lighting strikes around Yreka. Our brave first responders have a lot in front of them before they can catch the fires burning across our Siskiyou County. We will benefit in the coming days from lower temperatures and less predicted lightning. Please work to support them by evacuating when you are asked to evacuate.
Klamath National Forest and Butte Valley National Grassland