Progress in fight against California fire that killed 2

When the ashes began to fall and his throat burned with smoke, Franklin Tom decided it was time to leave the city where he grew up on the edge of California’s national forest.

He remained in the shelter on Monday with only his medicine, some clothes, his shower shoes, his daughter and, unlike everyone else, he had escaped California’s biggest fire of the year and his home still stands fall.

“Please pray for us,” said Tom, 55.

At least two people have died and more than 100 homes, sheds and other structures have been burned since the McKinney fire, which broke out on Friday, remains out of control, authorities said.

Two bodies were found Sunday in a charred car in the driveway of a home near the remote community of Klamath River, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. Other details were not immediately released.

The fires near the Northern California-Oregon border began in the Klamath National Forest and spread to nearly 87 square miles (225 square kilometers). It was one of several fires raging across the western United States, threatening thousands of homes.

In northwest Montana, a 20-square-mile (52-square-kilometer) fire started Friday afternoon near the town of Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation, fire officials said. High afternoon winds blew the fire east, forcing some to flee their homes.

The California fires started small but erupted over the weekend as thunderstorm cells sometimes brought gusts of 50 mph (80 kph).

Cloudy conditions and some good rain helped firefighters Sunday night and Monday. Bulldozers managed to surround the city of Yreka (Wye-REE’-kuh) with firebreaks, fire officials said, while crews were making progress in drawing a line of fire over the steep and rough terrain.

The fire was about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from Yreka, a scenic city of about 7,500 people.

“We’ve got the weather,” said U.S. Forest Service Incident Fire Commander Todd Mack. “We have horsepower. We’re chasing it.”

But the weather was mixed. Lightning over the weekend also sparked several smaller fires near the McKinney Fire. Despite much-needed moisture, forests and fields in the region remain extremely dry.

Yreka is likely to see high temperatures of nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday, and the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for extreme fire danger Tuesday night as lightning threatens to spark new fires and outflows of gusts from thunderstorms provide flames power.

Paisley Bamberg, 33, was among those waiting to put out the fire at the shelter on Monday. She arrived in Yreka a few months ago from West Columbia, South Carolina.

When she was told to evacuate, she was living in a motel with her six children, who ranged in age from 15 to her 1-year-old twins.

“I started throwing everything on the truck,” but had to leave a lot behind, she said.

Bamberg said she had just been hired by a restaurant at Arby’s and wondered if it would survive the fire.

“When we get back, there probably won’t be much there,” she said. “I don’t know if I have a job. The kids should start school, I don’t know if the school is still there.”

“I’m trying to keep my spirits up. I have six little humans who depend on me,” she said. “I can’t collapse or shake.”

About 2,500 people were under evacuation orders, but Tom said he knew many remained in Yreka.

“There are still a lot of people in town, people who refuse to leave,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have a car and can’t go. It’s really sad.”

Thom has lived in Yreka all his life, but this is the first time he has been threatened by wildfires.

“I never thought it would happen,” he said, “I thought, ‘We’re invincible.'” …that’s lying to me. “

Elsewhere, the Idaho moose fire burned more than 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) in the Salmon-Charles National Forest, while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon. The control rate was 23% on Monday.

Wildfires raging in northwest Nebraska have evacuated residents and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small city of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire began Saturday as two separate fires merged. It had about 30% control by early Monday.

Climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive, scientists say.

The U.S. Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177-kilometer) section of the famous Pacific Ridge Trail in Northern California and southern Oregon. 60 hikers in the area were evacuated Saturday, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, which assisted in the effort.


Webb reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Amy Hansen in Helena, Montana; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; and Keith Ridler and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho contributed to this report.

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