Two bodies were found inside a burned-out car in the path of a huge wildfire raging near California's border with Oregon, authorities said on Monday, as heavy smoke limited efforts to deploy aircraft to contain the blaze over the weekend.
Since it broke out on Friday, the fast-moving McKinney Fire has forced at least 2,000 residents to evacuate while destroying homes and critical infrastructure, mostly in Siskiyou County, home to Klamath National Forest, according to a release from Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday.
Two other fires in the county have forced at least 200 residents out of their homes, it said. Those fires grew to more than 1,700 acres combined as of Sunday, the US Forest Service said.
Already the largest blaze in California this year, the fire had ripped through 55,493 acres (22,457 hectares) and was still 0% contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said in a Monday morning update.
The two bodies were found on Sunday in a car parked in a residential driveway west of the community of Klamath River, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said in a statement on Monday. It said it would have no additional information about the deaths pending identification and notification of next to kin.
More than two decades of drought and rising temperatures, exacerbated by climate change, have made California more vulnerable than ever to wildfires. The two most devastating years on record were in 2020 and 2021 based on the number of acres burned.
"Red flag" warnings were in effect through Tuesday for much of Siskiyou, a sprawling, sparsely populated county that is larger than the state of Connecticut. Abundant "dry" lightning strikes with little rainfall were likely, the National Weather Service said, warning of conditions ripe for igniting new fires.
Heavy smoke above the fire region helped limit the growth of the fire on Sunday but it also grounded aircraft used to fight the blaze, the US Forest Service said in its statement.
Newsom declared a state of emergency for Siskiyou County on Sunday, a step that will help residents gain access to federal aid and unlock state resources.
One of those forced to evacuate was Harlene Althea Schwander, 81, an artist who moved to the area only a month ago to be near her son and daughter-in-law.
"I'm very sad. My house is gone, all my furniture, all clothes, shoes, coats, boots. Everything is gone," Schwander told Reuters on Sunday outside an American Red Cross evacuation shelter in the town of Weed, about 40 miles south of the McKinney Fire.
It is the second major wildfire to erupt in California this season. The Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park was 67% contained after charred more than 19,244 acres, Cal Fire said on its website.