California fire becomes state’s largest amid stifling heatwave suspected of causing 7 deaths

The size of California’s McKinney Fire surpassed that of a Southern fire overnight, becoming the state’s largest in 2022 — by far.

The 51,468-acre blaze near the state’s northern border has thrived from the deadly heat of the Pacific Northwest tentatively linked to the deaths of seven people in Oregon.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the county on Saturday. It frees up additional state and federal firefighting and recovery funds.

Just a week ago, the 19,000-acre Oak Fire about 400 miles south in Mariposa County became the state’s largest of the year. That fire, about 40 miles from the edge of Yosemite National Park, was 64 percent contained as of Sunday.

Late afternoon heat in Oregon-bordered Siskayou County was measured at 99 degrees on Sunday. A red flag warning telling residents the most volatile wildfire conditions are in store and an excessive heat warning were in effect until late Sunday evening.

While officials reported the McKinney fire appeared to have moderated somewhat on Saturday night amid the added darkness of a toxic fog known as smoke inversion, it revived after midnight and continued to threaten an estimated 400 buildings, according to an update from the US Forest service on Sunday.

The forecast for the new week was mixed. Federal and state fire officials are fearing the prospect of dry flashes from thunderstorms moving into the area through at least Wednesday. The national weather service forecast a low chance of rain in the mix for Monday.

Any dry flash has the potential to increase the McKinney Fire footprint, officials said. In fact, it already happened overnight with a strike near Doggett Creek, just north of the main fire, US Forest Service officials said in their latest report.

“These conditions can be extremely dangerous for firefighters because the winds can be erratic and extremely strong, causing the fire to spread in all directions,” they said.

The McKinney Fire’s growth favored movement north toward Oregon and west toward the heart of the Pacific Coast Ranges, officials said.

A separate 300-acre fire called the China Fire was located nearby and was part of the US Forest Service’s coverage of the McKinney Fire, but so far it hasn’t started with the state’s largest wildfire.

Fuel, including wood and scrub, was extremely dry in a third year of prolonged California drought.

Siskayou County wasn’t missing a single condition for catastrophic fires: While winds weren’t tornadic, forecasters said gusts of 30 to 50 miles per hour were possible during thunderstorms.

Mandatory evacuations for more than 2,000 residents remained in place several communities in the district.

Todd Miyazawa, Lindsey Pipia, Linda Takahashi and Melina Chalkia contributed. California fire becomes state’s largest amid stifling heatwave suspected of causing 7 deaths

Fry Electronics Team

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