Wildfires in California near the Oregon border and in Montana exploded in size overnight in a sweltering storm and were rapidly encroaching on neighborhoods, causing the evacuation of more than 100 homes Saturday, as the Idaho fire spread.
In California’s Klamath National Forest, the fast-moving McKinney fire, which began Friday, went from charring just over one square mile to as much as 62 square miles by Saturday in a largely rural area near the Oregon line, according to to fire officials. .
“It’s continuing to grow with choppy winds and thunderstorms in the area, and we’re in triple-digit temperatures,” said Caroline Quintanilla, a spokeswoman for the Klamath National Forest.
Check out The Oregonian/OregonLive’s new wildfire smoke map below. (click here If you don’t see the map.)
Meanwhile in Montana, the Elmo Fire has nearly tripled in size to more than 11 square miles (about 28 square kilometers) a few miles from the city of Elmo. About 200 miles to the south, Idahoans remained under evacuation orders as a moose fire in Salmon Chalice National Forest burned more than 67.5 square miles of woodland near Salmon Town. It was 17% contained.
The large accumulation of vegetation led to the McKinney fire, said Tom Stokesbury, a spokesman for the US Forest Service in the area.
“It’s a very dangerous fire – the geography there is very steep and rugged, and this particular area hasn’t burned in a while,” he said.
Stocksbury said a small fire was burning near the town of Siad. With lightning expected over the next few days, he said, resources have been brought in from across California to help fight the area’s fires.
McKinney’s explosive growth has forced crews to shift from trying to control the perimeter of the fire to trying to protect homes and critical infrastructure such as water tanks and power lines, and assisting with evacuations in California’s northernmost Siskiyou County. The fire is located west of Interstate 5.
Representatives and law enforcement officials were knocking on doors at Yreka County and the town of Fort Jones urging residents to get out and safely evacuate their livestock on trailers. Automated calls were sent to landlines as well due to areas where there was no cell phone service.
More than 100 homes have been ordered to evacuate, and authorities have warned people to be on high alert. Smoke from the fire closed parts of Interstate 96.
“We’re asking residents across the region to be prepared,” Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Courtney Kreider said. “Last night we were delaying evacuations almost every hour, and large parts of the county are in warning zones.”
Moments later, she said, “Oh—we’ve added another area to the evacuation warning.”
The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the US Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177-kilometre) section of the trail from the summit of Etna to Mt. Ashland campground in southern Oregon.
Oregon representative. Dacia Graeber, a firefighter, was camping with her husband, who also works in the fire service, near the California State Line when they were woken by strong winds just after midnight.
The sky was glowing with lightning strikes in the clouds, while ash was pouring down upon them, though they were in Oregon, about 10 miles away. The intense heat from the fire caused the formation of a huge pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which can produce its own weather system including winds and thunderstorms, Graeber said.
“This was among the worst winds I’ve ever had in my life and we’re used to big fires,” she said. “I thought it would rip the overhead tent of our truck. We made it out of there.”
On their way out, they come across two hikers on Pacific Coast Highway fleeing to safety. They offered rides, but one of the hikers said he’d take a glass of beer, and they gave it to him, she said.
“The terrifying part for us was the wind speed,” she said. “It went from a fairly cold stormy night to a hot, dry wind with the power of hurricanes. It usually happens with a fire during the day but not at night. I hope for everyone’s sake this one dies but it looks like it’s going to get worse.”
In western Montana, wind-driven Elmo fires have forced evacuations of homes and livestock as they race through grass and lumber, according to the Idaho-based National Interagency Fire Center. The agency estimated that it would take about a month to contain the fire.
The smoke closed part of Interstate 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo due to thick smoke, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.
Crews from several different agencies were battling the blaze on Saturday, including the Salish and Kootenay Confederate Tribes Fire Brigade. Six helicopters fell into the fire with the help of 22 engines on the ground.
In Idaho, more than 930 firefighters and prairie support personnel were battling the moose fire Saturday to protect homes, energy infrastructure and the corridor of Interstate 93, a major north-south route.
The red flag warning indicated that the weather could make matters worse with weather forecasts calling for “dry thunderstorms” with lightning, wind and no rain.
Meanwhile, crews have made significant progress fighting another major California fire that forced thousands of people to evacuate near Yosemite National Park earlier this month. The oak fire was 52% contained by Saturday, according to the Cal Fire Incident Update.
With fires raging across the West, the US House of Representatives on Friday approved sweeping legislation to help communities deal with severe wildfires and droughts – fueled by climate change – that have caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses in recent years.
The legislative measure approved Friday by federal lawmakers combines 49 separate bills and increases firefighters’ pay and benefits. enhancing resilience and mitigation projects for communities affected by climate change; watershed protection; and make it easier for bushfire victims to get federal assistance.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where the California Democratic senator will attend. Diane Feinstein sponsored a similar procedure.