Today Highway 96 reopened. The reopening, albeit in a limited fashion with a pilot car guiding traffic safely and slowly through the fire ravaged landscape, feels like another milestone in our response to the devastating McKinney Fire. I want to emphasize, however, that although we’ve achieved 75% containment on the fire, we are not done with this fire yet. Through the careful planning and hard work of our unified Incident Commanders (ICs) – Forest Service IC Nickie Johnny and CAL FIRE IC Darryl Laws – we made it through a very significant weather test of our lines on Sunday and Monday. Since then we’ve had more moderate weather, but as I look towards the weekend, forecasts show temperatures soaring back into the 100s and the potential for significant fire activity as well as increased heat-related threats to emergency responders and the community.
A few minutes ago forward progress on the George incident, a new fire reported this afternoon off Scott River Road, was stopped. We are also making excellent progress on the Yeti and Alex fires. IC Todd Mack, who is also a Siskiyou County local, anticipates transitioning to a Type III team at the end of his assignment (this weekend), reflecting the tremendous progress they’ve made limiting the spread of the fire and protecting downriver communities from impacts.
As part of my commitment to you that we will only close the portions of your public lands when there is an urgent need, we are hard at work today shrinking the closure areas for both the Yeti and McKinney fires. Please help us by continuing to respect the fire closure. Yesterday, investigators continuing to work to definitively identify the cause of the McKinney Fire encountered several members of the public driving into the closure area and had to stop work to escort them back to safety. I am as eager as each of you to gain 100% containment on this blaze and understand how it was ignited, and your assistance remaining outside closure areas helps our firefighters and investigators work on their primary missions.
As I write this, we are continuing to process the loss of long-time Klamath National Forest lookout Kathy Shoopman and working to honor her in many ways. Our wildland fire community was devastated this by another loss – a BLM hotshot from the Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew working on a fire in Oregon. We are also grieving the three other people who lost their lives in the first desperate hours of the response to the McKinney Fire. My heart is heavy, as I know each of yours is, at this loss of life. If you are reading this message, it is likely that you or someone you know has been personally affected by these tragic fires. Please check in with your friends and family and take a moment to see how they’re doing – ask for support if you need it and offer it if you can give it. We are and will always be Siskiyou County Strong.
-Rachel Rachel Smith, Forest Supervisor, Klamath National Forest
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