Deadly California wildfire wipes out scenic river town

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A search and rescue dog leaves a house razed by the McKinney Fire Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Klamath National Forest, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

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Roger Derry, 80, and his son have lived together in the quaint little hamlet of Klamath River in northern California for more than 40 years.

They know most of the town’s approximately 200 residents.

Now they are one of the few families left after California’s biggest and deadliest wildfire of the year raged through modest homes and shops in the riverside town.

“It’s very sad. It’s very disheartening,” Derry said. “Some of our oldest homes, century-old homes, are gone. It’s a small community. most of them live here and in time they will rebuild. But it will take time now.”

The McKinney Fire that erupted last Friday has remained uncontrollable, despite some progress as firefighters took advantage of thunderstorms that dumped rain that temporarily removed some heat from the parched and scorched region not far from the border from Oregon.

The region experienced another thunderstorm on Tuesday which dumped heavy rain and swelled rivers.

The blaze has burned over 88 square miles (228 square kilometers) and is the largest of several wildfires burning in Klamath National Forest.

The blaze did not spread on Tuesday and firefighters said crews were able to use bulldozers to dig firebreaks along a ridge to protect homes and buildings in the county seat of Yreka .

But several thousand people remained under evacuation orders, 100 buildings ranging from homes to greenhouses burned down and at least four bodies were found in the area.

The destruction of a small community has unfortunately become a real possibility as wildfires grow more violent in the western United States.

Wildfires in Montana, Idaho and Nebraska have destroyed some homes and continue to threaten communities.

Just four years ago, a huge fire in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills nearly leveled the Butte County town of Paradise, killing 85 people.

Scientists said climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

When it started, the McKinney Fire covered only a few hundred acres and firefighters believed they would get it under control quickly. But then a storm cell arrived with fierce gusts of wind that, within hours, pushed it into an unstoppable conflagration.

Roger Derry and his son, whose name is spelled Rodger Derry, decided not to evacuate when the fire broke out and said their home, which they had tried to protect by cutting nearby bushes, had survived. Firefighters also showed up and dug firebreaks in the neighborhood.

But they could see the fire as it made its way through the places around them.

“When this fire came over this ridge line it had 100ft flames for about 5 miles and the wind was blowing. It was falling like a solid blowtorch,” Roger Derry said. “There was nothing to stop it,”

The fire destroyed most homes, including those at a trailer park, as well as the post office, community hall and other scattered businesses.

The cause has not been determined.

In northwestern Montana, a fire that broke out on Friday near the town of Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation burned down some structures, but authorities said they didn’t immediately know if there was any. had houses. The blaze measured 25 square miles (66 square kilometers) on Tuesday, with 10% containment, firefighters said. Some residents were forced to flee on Monday as gusty afternoon winds fueled the blaze.

The Moose Fire in Idaho has burned more than 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) in the Salmon-Challis National Forest while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon. It was 23% contained on Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

And a raging wildfire in northwest Nebraska prompted evacuations and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small town of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire started on Saturday as two separate fires that merged. It was more than 30% contained on Tuesday.

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Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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