Two bodies were found inside a burned vehicle in the path of a raging northern California wildfire, authorities said, as several major blazes burn across the US west amid hot, dry, gusty conditions.
The bodies were found Sunday inside a charred vehicle in a residential driveway near the remote community of Klamath River, California, the Siskiyou county sheriff’s office said in a statement Monday. The victims were not immediately identified.
The house was in the path of the McKinney fire, which exploded in size over the weekend in a largely unpopulated area in the Klamath national forest, just south of the Oregon state line. It is California’s largest wildfire of the year so far.
Flames had scorched more than 82 sq miles (212 sq km) by Sunday night, according to officials. The fire torched trees along Route 96 and raced through hillsides in sight of houses. The blaze cast an eerie, orange-brown hue, in one neighborhood where a brick chimney stood surrounded by rubble and scorched vehicles.
Crews on the ground worked to keep the fire from moving east into the town of Yreka, home to 7,500 people. Thousands of people in the area had been told to evacuate.
Meanwhile, a second, smaller fire just to the west that was sparked by dry lightning Saturday threatened the tiny town of Seiad. About 400 structures were under threat from the two California fires.
A third fire, which was on the south-west end of the McKinney blaze, prompted evacuation orders for about 500 houses Sunday, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou county sheriff’s office. The office said crews had been on the scene of the fire since late Saturday but by the following morning it “became active and escaped its containment line”.
Thunderstorms that brought barrages of lightning and threatened to spark new fires in dry fuel beds in northern California were expected to move out starting Monday, forecasters said.
The fires in northern California are among several raging across the US west. In northwest Montana, a fire sparked in grasslands near the town of Elmo had grown to about 17 sq miles on Sunday after advancing into forest. And in Idaho, the Moose fire in the Salmon-Challis national forest has burned on more than 75 sq miles in timbered land near the town of Salmon. It was 21% contained by Sunday.
Scientists say the climate crisis has made the western US warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.