FRED GREAVES / REUTERS
Des Moines, Iowa – California’s largest wildfire this year has claimed at least two lives and forced thousands to evacuate as it destroyed homes and swept through the state’s dry land, fueled by high winds and lightning storms on Sunday .
The McKinney fire was zero percent contained as it burned in Northern California’s Klamath National Forest, CalFire said, spreading across more than 52,000 acres near the town of Yreka.
The blaze challenged a state that has already battled several large wildfires this summer.
Siskiyou County Coroner Jeremiah LaRue said, “Fire personnel located two people dead inside a vehicle that burned in the path of the McKinney fire. The vehicle was in a residential road”.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday, saying the fire had “destroyed homes” and “threatened critical infrastructure” after breaking out on Friday.
The fire was “intensified and spread by dry fuels, extreme drought conditions, high temperatures, winds and lightning storms,” Newsom said in a statement.
FRED GREAVES / REUTERS
More than 2,000 residents were under evacuation orders and about 200 more were under evacuation advisories, according to the California Office of Emergency Services, mostly in Siskiyou County.
“Surroundings should be prepared to evacuate if necessary. Feel free to evacuate,” the Siskiyou County Sheriff tweeted.
Highway 96 and McKinney Creed Road southwest of the Klamath River were closed to the public, CalFire said.
Nearly 650 people were working to extinguish the fire Sunday, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.
Firefighters were dispatched from nearby Oregon to aid containment efforts, the Oregon State Fire Marshal said.
CalFire said the cause of the flames was still “under investigation.”
The U.S. Forest Service said a “heavy plume of smoke” had helped limit the fire’s growth Sunday, but it also meant firefighting planes were also “mostly grounded.”
Fire crews were working above Fort Jones and west of Yreka “to stem the progress of the fire,” the USFS said.
The record-breaking fire broke out just days after the previous year’s largest blaze broke out in central California.
The Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park broke out in mid-July and spread quickly, destroying 41 buildings and forcing thousands to evacuate.
California, which is facing a punishing drought, still has months of fire season ahead of it.
In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by huge, fast-moving wildfires fueled by a warming climate.
Other parts of the world have also faced intense wildfires this year.
Both Portugal and France were battling major forest fires on Sunday as temperatures rose sharply across Europe over the weekend.
Also over the weekend, hundreds of firefighters in Germany battled a blaze in the east of the country, injuring four people, authorities said.
Scientists sayis making heat waves around the world more frequent and more intense, increasing the risk of fires.