Flames burn to the Klamath River during the McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest northwest of Yreka, California, on July 31, 2022. (Photo by DAVID MCNEW / AFP)
The largest fire in California this year is forcing thousands of people to evacuate as it destroys homes and rips through the state’s dry terrain, whipped up on Sunday by strong winds and lightning storms.
The McKinney Fire was completely uncontained as it burned in Klamath National Forest in Northern California, CalFire said, spreading over more than 51,000 acres near the city of Yreka.
It is the largest wildfire so far this year in California, which has already battled several blazes this summer.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying the fire had “destroyed homes” and “threatened critical infrastructure” after breaking out on Friday.
The fire was “intensified and spread by dry fuels, extreme drought conditions, high temperatures, winds, and lightning storms,” Newsom said in a statement.
More than 2,000 residents were under evacuation orders and some 200 under evacuation warnings, according to the California Office of Emergency Services, mostly in Siskiyou County.
“Surrounding areas should be ready to leave if needed. Please don’t hesitate to evacuate,” the Siskiyou County Sheriff tweeted.
Highway 96 and McKinney Creed Road southwest of the Klamath River were closed to the public, CalFire said.
Yreka resident Larry Castle told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he and his wife had packed up a few possessions and their three dogs to leave the area for the night, as other fires in recent years had taught them the situation could turn “very, very serious.”
Nearly 650 people were working to douse the blaze as of Sunday, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.
Firefighting forces were sent from nearby Oregon to help containment efforts, the Oregon State Fire Marshal said, as the Klamath National Forest also deals with the Kelsey Creek Fire.
CalFire said the cause of the fire was still “under investigation.”
The ruins of the Oak Mobile Park are seen at the McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest northwest of Yreka, California, on July 31, 2022. (Photo by DAVID MCNEW / AFP)
The US Forest Service said “a heavy smoke inversion” had helped to limit the growth of the fire on Sunday, but also meant that firefighters’ aircraft were also “mostly grounded.”
Fire crews were working above Fort Jones and west of Yreka “to cut off the fire’s progress,” the USFS said.
The record-breaking blaze was sparked just days after the year’s previous largest fire raged in central California.
The Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park broke out in mid-July and spread rapidly, destroying 41 buildings and forcing thousands to evacuate.
California, which is facing a punishing drought, still has months of fire season ahead of it.
In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by huge and fast-moving wildfires, driven by a warming climate.
Other parts of the world have also faced intense wildfires this year.
On Sunday, both Portugal and France were battling major forest fires, as temperatures rose sharply in Europe over the weekend.
In Portugal, a blaze broke out in the Mafra area, north of Lisbon, while in France at least four firefighters were seriously injured and motorways were closed.
Around 400 firefighters were drafted in to fight the blaze around 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Lisbon.
Also over the weekend, hundreds of firefighters in Germany battled a blaze in the east of the country, with four people injured, authorities said.
Scientists say climate change is making heatwaves around the world more frequent and more intense, increasing the risk of fires.