Wildfires in California and Montana raged overnight amid high winds and heat and quickly engulfed neighborhoods, forcing the evacuation of more than 100 homes Saturday as flames spread across Idaho.
In California’s Klamath National Forest, the fast-moving McKinney Fire that started Friday went from charring just over 1 square mile (1 square kilometer) to 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) by Saturday in a mostly rural area near the Oregon border , according to fire officials. At least a dozen residential buildings were gutted in the fire, and wild animals fled the area to escape the blaze.
As fires raged across the West, on Friday the U.S. House extensive legislation has been approved aims to help communities in the region cope with increasingly severe wildfires and droughts caused by climate change, which have caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses in recent years.
“It’s continuing to grow with erratic winds and thunderstorms in the area and we’re in the triple digits,” said Caroline Quintanilla, spokeswoman for the Klamath National Forest.
High temperatures, excessive winds and low humidity, along with significant vegetation growth in the region, are fueling the McKinney fire, said Tom Stocksberry, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman for the region.
“This is a very dangerous fire — the geography is steep and rugged, and this area hasn’t burned in a long time,” he said.
McKinney’s explosive growth has forced crews to shift from trying to control the perimeter of the flames to trying to protect homes and critical infrastructure, such as water tanks and power lines, and help with evacuations in California’s northernmost Siskiyou County. Smoke from the fire caused the closure of sections of Highway 96.
Deputies and law enforcement have been knocking on doors in Irica County and the city of Fort Jones to urge residents to get out and safely evacuate their livestock onto trailers. Automated calls were also routed to landlines because there was no mobile service in some areas.
More than 100 homes were ordered to be evacuated, and authorities warned people to be on high alert.
“We’re asking residents throughout the area to be prepared,” said Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Courtney Kreider. “We had evacuations about every hour last night, and there are large parts of the county that are in warning zones.”
After a few moments she said, “Oh, we just added another zone to the evacuation alert.”
Meanwhile, crews are making significant progress on another major wildfire in California that forced the evacuation of thousands of people near Yosemite National Park earlier this month. The Oak fire was 52% contained as of Saturday, according to Cal Fire’s incident information.
The legislative measure approved by federal lawmakers on Friday consolidates 49 separate bills and increases firefighter pay and benefits; resilience building and mitigation projects for communities affected by climate change; protect watersheds; and make it easier for wildfire victims to receive federal aid.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein has supported a similar measure.