YREKA, Calif. (AP) — Major wildfires in California and Montana increased significantly as firefighters protected remote communities on Sunday as hot, windy weather in the tinder-dry American west created the potential for even more spread.
The McKinney Fire burned out of control in Northern California’s Klamath National Forest as erratic thunderstorms swept through the region just south of the Oregon state line, said Adrienne Freeman, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
“The fuel beds are so dry and they could just erupt from that lightning,” she said. “These thundercells come with gusty erratic winds that can blow fire in all directions.
The fire exploded in size to more than 80 square miles (207 square km) just two days after erupting in a largely uninhabited area of Siskiyou County, according to a Sunday incident report. The cause was under investigation.
A second, smaller fire just west that was sparked by dry lightning on Saturday threatened the small town of Seiad, Freeman said. About 400 homes were threatened by the two California fires.
In Montana, a fire in grasslands near the town of Elmo grew to more than 28 square miles after going into the woods. Temperatures in western Montana could reach 96 degrees (36 degrees Celsius) Sunday afternoon with high winds, the National Weather Service said.
About 200 miles (320 km) south, residents of Idaho had to be evacuated Saturday when the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest charred more than 174.8 square miles of forested land near the city of Salmon. Saturday was 17% curtailed.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday as the McKinney fire intensified. The proclamation gives Newsom more flexibility to make decisions about emergency measures and recovery efforts and to access federal aid.
California police knocked on doors in the town of Yreka Fort Jones to urge residents to step outside and safely evacuate their livestock on trailers. Automated calls were also sent to landlines because there were areas without cell phone service.
The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to head to the nearest town, while the US Forest Service closed a 177 km stretch from Mount Etna to Mount Ashland Campground in southern Oregon.
In western Montana, the wind-powered Elmo Fire forced evacuations of homes and livestock as it swept over grass and woods. The National Interagency Fire Center estimated it could take nearly a month to contain the blaze.
According to the Montana Department of Transportation, a section of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo is closed because of the thick smoke.