At least four people have been killed in the McKinney fire, now the largest wildfire in California this year, burning since Friday in the Klamath Forest near the Oregon border. The bodies of two people were recovered Sunday morning in a car outside the tiny town of Klamath River, having apparently been caught by the fire while trying to drive to safety. Two additional people were found dead Monday by fire crews checking burned out homes outside the town. The fire has obliterated Klamath River, a hamlet of about 200 people, destroying more than 100 buildings.
The fire is so severe it created towering columns of soot called pyrocumulonimbus clouds that reached so high into the atmosphere that they spawned thunder and lightning storms. The downpours helped firefighters gain a small foothold – as of Wednesday night, the fire is 10% contained, having burned 57,519 acres – but triggered flash floods and mudslides on the newly charred landscape.
Officials warned conditions could worsen as the forecast calls for hotter and drier weather Thursday and Friday with highs stretching toward 105°F, exacerbating extreme drought conditions. As climate change worsens, extreme wildfires will become increasingly severe and widespread. California is in the middle of the worst drought since record-keeping began, with average summer temperatures in the state 3°F higher than they were at the end of the 19th Century.