YREKA, Calif. — Major wildfires in California and Montana increased dramatically as firefighters protected remote communities on Sunday as hot, windy weather in the dry, dry western United States created a even greater potential for spread.
The McKinney Fire was spiraling out of control in the Klamath National Forest in northern California as erratic thunderstorms swept through the area just south of the Oregon state line, the spokeswoman said of the US Forest Service, Adrienne Freeman.
“The fuel beds are so dry and they can just burst from this lightning,” she said. “These thunder cells are accompanied by erratic gusty winds that can blow fire in any direction.
The blaze swelled to more than 80 square miles (207 square km) just two days after erupting in a largely uninhabited area of Siskiyou County, according to an incident report on Sunday. The cause was under investigation.
A second, smaller fire just to the west, sparked by dry lightning on Saturday, threatened the small town of Seiad, Freeman said. About 400 homes were threatened by the two fires in California.
In Montana, a fire started in the prairies near the town of Elmo grew to more than 11 square miles (28 square km) after advancing into the forest. Temperatures in western Montana could reach 96 degrees (36 degrees Celsius) by Sunday afternoon with strong winds, the National Weather Service said.
About 200 miles (320 km) to the south, Idaho residents were under evacuation orders on Saturday as the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest charred more than 67.5 square miles (174.8 km2) in woodland near the town of Salmon. He was 17% contained on Saturday.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday as the McKinney Fire intensified. The proclamation gives Newsom more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery effort decisions and access federal assistance.
California law enforcement knocked on the gates of the town of Yreka Fort Jones urging residents to get out and evacuate their livestock safely in trailers. Automated calls were also sent to landline telephones as there were areas with no cell phone service.
The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the US Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177 km) section of the trail from Mount Etna’s summit to Mount Ashland Campground in southern Oregon.
In western Montana, the wind-driven Elmo Fire forced the evacuation of homes and livestock as it ripped through grass and woods. The National Interagency Fire Center estimated it would take nearly a month to contain the blaze.
A portion of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo was closed due to heavy smoke, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.