Death toll rises in McKinney fire as new bodies discovered

Yreka, California - The death toll in California's fast-moving McKinney fire is now at four after authorities found the bodies of two additional people, officials announced Tuesday.

Flames make an upslope run at the McKinney fire in the Klamath National Forest near Yreka, California.
Flames make an upslope run at the McKinney fire in the Klamath National Forest near Yreka, California.  © DAVID MCNEW / AFP

The bodies were discovered at homes along Highway 96 in rural Siskiyou County, authorities said. Two other people were found dead in a burning vehicle within the fire zone earlier in the week.

There is no additional information about the victims pending notification of their family, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said. Authorities said no one is currently missing from the fire zone.

About 1,300 firefighters battling the blaze were contending with possible thunderstorms Tuesday that could present new dangers.

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"There is a red flag warning for abundant lightning over dry fuels," fire spokesperson Joel Brumm said. "Some of those storms may be wet – that can help – but they’re also going to potentially produce really strong outflow winds, and there could be additional lightning, which is not helpful. It wouldn’t take much for the fire to spring back to life."

There are about 10 other smaller fires – including the nearly 2,500-acre China-2 fire – burning in Klamath National Forest. Those lightning fires are now being dubbed the Yeti Complex, Brumm said.

McKinney fire's cause under investigation

Lightning strikes east of the eastern front of the McKinney fire.
Lightning strikes east of the eastern front of the McKinney fire.  © DAVID MCNEW / AFP

The McKinney fire, which had burned 58,165 acres as of Tuesday morning and was 0% contained, ignited Friday afternoon near Highway 96 and McKinney Creed Road, southwest of the Klamath River near the California-Oregon border.

The main fire’s growth has stalled over the last two days as more firefighters have arrived at the scene.

Fire crews took advantage of more favorable weather conditions on Monday, including some rain, and worked to establish containment lines to prevent the blaze from spreading into nearby Yreka. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Firefighting McKinney fire rages on as dozens of hikers rescued from Pacific Crest Trail

Authorities said Monday that two people had been found dead inside a burning car in the fire zone.

But some residents across Siskiyou County are worried about others who are unaccounted for.

Some residents still worried about friends and relatives

A firefighting helicopter flies near smoke and flames at the McKinney fire.
A firefighting helicopter flies near smoke and flames at the McKinney fire.  © DAVID MCNEW / AFP

Officials have recovered additional remains but haven’t determined whether they are human or animal, Courtney Kreider, a Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

An anthropology team from Chico State University with experience helping authorities identify victims of the 2018 Camp fire has been deployed to assist in the effort, Kreider said.

After a community meeting Monday night, resident Sherri Marchetti-Perrault described her harrowing story of escaping the flames.

Marchetti-Perrault told The Times that her home off Highway 96 had been destroyed in the blaze.

"When we left, everything was on fire," she recalled. "It happened so fast. We left with the clothes on our back. We couldn’t breathe, and we couldn’t see."

She thought of her 78-year-old uncle, who was in the house with her at the time and refused to leave. She fears he was killed.

"I know where he was sitting, and I saw him," Marchetti-Perrault said. "I’m sure it was him."

Cover photo: DAVID MCNEW / AFP

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