A huge wildfire raging in northern California continues to burn out of control as residents of a scenic river town razed by the fire return to scenes of destruction.
In the hamlet of Klamath River, home to about 200 people, most homes and businesses have turned to ash. Several thousand people in the region remain under evacuation orders, and at least four have been killed.
Some Klamath River residents are now picking through the burned out shells of their modest houses. Roger Derry, 80, and his son have lived together in Klamath River for more than 40 years, and are among the few families whose homes were spared by the inferno.
“It’s very sad. It’s very disheartening,” Derry said. “Some of our oldest homes, 100-year-old homes, are gone. It’s a small community. Good people, good folks, for the most part, live here and in time will rebuild. But it’s going to take some time now.”
The McKinney fire is the largest and deadliest blaze the state has seen this year. It has burned more than 90 sq miles (233 sq km) near the California-Oregon border, and is the largest of several wildfires burning in the Klamath national forest. The fire didn’t grow on Tuesday, and fire officials said crews were able to use bulldozers to carve firebreaks along a ridge to protect homes and buildings in the county seat of Yreka.
Elsewhere, wildfires in Montana, Idaho and Nebraska have destroyed some homes and continue to threaten communities.
Just four years ago, a huge blaze in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California virtually razed the Butte county town of Paradise, killing 85 people.
Scientists have said climate change has made the west warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
When it began, the McKinney fire was only a couple hundred acres and firefighters thought they would quickly have it under control. But then, a thunderstorm cell came in with ferocious wind gusts that within hours had pushed it into an unstoppable conflagration.
Roger Derry and his son, whose name is spelled Rodger Derry, decided not to evacuate when the fire broke out and said their home, which they had tried to safeguard by trimming away nearby bushes, survived. Firefighters also showed up and dug firebreaks around the neighborhood.
But they could see the fire as it tore its way through the places around them.
“When that fire came over that ridge line, it had 100ft flames for about five miles and the wind was blowing. It was coming down like a solid blowtorch,” Roger Derry said. “There was nothing to stop it.”
The fire destroyed most of the homes, including those in a trailer park, along with the post office, community hall and other scattered businesses.
The cause of the blaze has not been determined.
In north-western Montana, a fire that started on Friday near the town of Elmo on the Flathead Indian Reservation had burned some structures, but authorities said they did not immediately know if any were homes. The blaze measured 25 sq miles (66 sq km) on Tuesday, with 10% containment, fire officials said. Some residents were forced to flee on Monday as gusting afternoon winds drove the fire.
The Moose fire in Idaho has burned more than 85 sq miles (220 sq km) in the Salmon-Challis national forest while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon. It was 23% contained on Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.
And a wildfire raging in north-western Nebraska led to evacuations and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small city of Gering. The Carter Canyon fire began Saturday as two separate fires that merged. As of Wednesday, fire crews had made good progress against the blaze which was about 85% contained. Crews had hoped storms on Tuesday would bring heavy rains to help douse the flames, but Bohall said the area instead only saw light showers and lightning strikes that sparked two additional fires.