California firefighters made gains against the state’s deadliest and largest wildfire of the year as an east Washington city was evacuated Thursday because of a fire that burned homes.
Around 1:30 p.m., the Adams County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook that homes in Lind had burned down.
“At this point, all residents of the town of Lind must be evacuated immediately,” the sheriff’s office said in the Post.
Later Thursday, Sheriff Dale Wagner said six houses and eight other buildings burned down. With the help of state and local resources, the fire was beginning to calm down, Wagner said, and all evacuations were lifted as of 8 p.m
“They’re going to be fighting it all night to make sure it doesn’t flare up again or get worse,” he said, adding that firefighters were struggling with intense heat and windy conditions.
He said a firefighter suffered smoke inhalation and was flown to Spokane for treatment.
Lind is a community of about 500 residents about 121 kilometers southwest of Spokane.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office said the fire burned through about 10.1 square kilometers. Homes, infrastructure and crops were threatened. The cause of the fire was determined.
Meanwhile, forecasters in California on Thursday warned that rising temperatures and falling humidity could create conditions for wildfires to continue growing.
After five days without containment, the McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border was 10% contained as of Wednesday night. Bulldozers and hand crews made headway by carving firebreaks around much of the remainder of the fire, fire officials said.
At the south-east corner of the fire, evacuation orders for parts of Yreka, home to about 7,800 people, were downgraded to warnings, allowing residents to return home but with a warning the situation remained dangerous.
About 1,300 people remained under evacuation orders, officials said at a community meeting Wednesday night.
The fire did not progress much in the middle of the week after several days of brief but heavy rain from thunderstorms made for cloudy, wet weather. But if clouds clear and humidity levels drop in the coming days, the fire could roar again, authorities have warned.
“This is a sleeping giant at the moment,” said Darryl Laws, a unit commander on fire.
Weekend temperatures could hit triple digits if the region dries up again, said meteorologist Brian Nieuwenhuis of the National Weather Service’s office in Medford, Oregon.
“The heat, the drought and the afternoon breeze could keep the fire quite active,” he said Thursday.
The fire broke out last Friday and has charred nearly 92 square miles (238 square kilometers) of woodland left cinder dry by drought. More than 100 homes and other buildings burned down and four bodies were found, including two in a burned-out car in a driveway.
The fire was initially driven by strong winds in front of a thunderstorm cell. More storms earlier this week proved a mixed blessing. A soggy rain on Tuesday threw up to 3 inches on some eastern sections of the fire, but most of the fire area became all but empty, said Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst.
The latest storm also raised concerns about possible river flooding and mudslides. A private contractor in a pickup truck who was helping fight the fire was injured when a bridge gave way and the vehicle washed away, Kreider said. The contractor’s injuries were not life-threatening.
Progress against the blaze came too late for many people in the quaint hamlet of Klamath River, home to about 200 people, before the fire burned many of the homes, as well as the post office, community center and other buildings.
At an evacuation center, Bill Simms said Wednesday that three of the four victims were his neighbors. Two were a married couple who lived up the road.
“I don’t get emotional when it comes to things and material things,” Simms said. “But when you hear my neighbors have died… it gets a little emotional.”
Their names have not been officially confirmed, which could take several days, said Courtney Kreider, a spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.
Simms, a 65-year-old retiree, bought his property six years ago as a second home with access to hunting and fishing. He went back Tuesday to check on his property and found it destroyed.
“The house, the guest house and the mobile home were gone. It’s just wasteland, desolation,” Simms said. He found the body of one of his two cats, which he buried. The other cat is still missing. He was able to take his two dogs to the shelter.
Harlene Schwander, 82, lost the home she moved into a month ago to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law. Her house survived, but her house was set on fire.
Schwander, an artist, said she only managed to take a few family photos and some jewelry before the evacuation. Everything else – including her art collection – went up in flames.
“I’m sad. Everyone says it was just stuff, but it was all I had,” she said.
Meanwhile, Thursday firefighters expected to completely surround a 404-acre spot fire on the northern edge of the McKinney Fire.
In the Southeast, wet weather left burn scars from last year’s large wildfires along the eastern front of the Sierra. The Weather Service issued flood warnings along the California-Nevada line for Thursday and Friday. This included areas burned in the Caldor Fire east of Sacramento and the Tamarack Fire west and south of Lake Tahoe.
Despite the isolated storms, drought prevails in California and much of the West and wildfire risk is high, with the worst fire season on record yet to come. Fires are raging in Montana, Idaho and Nebraska, destroying homes and threatening communities.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. California has experienced its largest, most destructive, and deadliest wildfires in the last five years.
In northwest Montana, a fire that destroyed at least four homes and forced the evacuation of about 150 homes west of Flathead Lake was pushed further north by winds Wednesday, fire officials said.
The Idaho moose fire 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.
And wildfire in northwestern Nebraska prompted evacuations and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small town of Gering.
Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporter Lisa Baumann in Seattle, Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana; Margery Beck of Omaha, Nebraska; and Keith Ridler of Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.