Death toll from California’s biggest fire of the year rises to four

At least four people died in California’s largest wildfire on Tuesday, local officials said on Tuesday, warning the death toll could rise.

The fire, dubbed “McKinney”, has been raging since Friday and was not out of control on Tuesday. It extends over 22,700 hectares and threatens, in particular, the small town of Ireka.

“We have four confirmed deaths and that number is subject to change,” a spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, where the state of emergency has been declared, told AFP.

On Sunday morning, the bodies of two dead were found in a burned-out car.

According to a report from the sheriff’s office, two more victims were found on Monday in two separate houses.

At least 3,000 people have been affected by evacuation orders in the Klamath River area, near the Oregon border.

“Our goal today is to communicate effectively with people and we ask that they comply with evacuation orders,” the spokesman said. “Our priority is the protection of human life and property.”

– Momentary calm –

A charred car after the McKinney fire in Yreka, California on August 2, 2022. (AFP – DAVID MCNEW)

“Everything was on fire when we left,” local resident Sherry Marchetti-Perro told the Los Angeles Times. “It happened so fast. We left with one piece of clothing on our backs. We couldn’t breathe and see nothing.”

Since Sunday evening, firefighters have taken advantage of a brief lull caused by better weather conditions, cooler temperatures and occasional rain.

But optimism remained cautious, as the meteorological service alert for the threat of thunderstorms remained active. After a lull early Tuesday afternoon, more thunderstorms are expected, they said.

“Vegetation in the area is extremely dry and the continued threat of thunderstorms and associated strong and unpredictable winds could cause the fire to re-ignite,” the California Fire Department warned.

Bulldozers were deployed to protect buildings near the city of Ireka (about 8,000 inhabitants).

– Persistent drought –

Despite the danger, some residents chose to wait until the last moment before leaving.

“I hold on and try not to leave too early because I help my mother, who is in poor physical health, move around,” resident Rafael Franco, who was ordered to move, told AFP. .

“If at the last minute I see a fire crossing the ridge where we are, then we will take what we can and go forward, hoping for the best,” he adds.

Margie Lawrence, who hurried out of Klamath River on Friday night, said she later returned home to collect her personal belongings. “We took things in case the house burned down, things we wanted but didn’t have enough,” she explained.

The fire season in California, a state with constant drought, is expected to last several months. The frequency and intensity of these fires are exacerbated by global warming.

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