Two bodies have been found in a charred vehicle in the wildfire zone of a raging California blaze that is among several burning in the western US amid hot, dry and gusty conditions, officials said.
The McKinney Fire in northern California, near the border with Oregon, exploded in size on Sunday to more than 82 square miles after erupting on Friday in Klamath National Forest, firefighting officials said.
It is California’s largest wildfire of the year so far and officials have not determined the cause.
The vehicle and the bodies were found on Sunday in the driveway of a residence near the remote community of Klamath River, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said.
The blaze cast an eerie, orange-brown hue as flames torched trees along State Route 96 and raced through hillsides in sight of homes.
Firefighting crews were trying to prevent the blaze from moving towards the town of Yreka, population about 7,500, about four miles away.
A smaller fire in the region that was sparked by dry lightning on Saturday is threatening the tiny community of Seiad. Overall, officials said about 400 structures were threatened by the two fires.
Authorities have not confirmed the extent of the damage so far in the areas that have burned, saying assessments will begin when it was safe to go inside them.
A third fire, on the south-west end of the McKinney blaze, prompted evacuation orders for around 500 homes on Sunday, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.
The office said crews had been on the scene of the fire since late on Saturday but by the following morning it “became active and escaped its containment line”.
Thunderstorms that brought barrages of lightning and threatened to spark new fires in dry fuel beds in northern California are expected to move out of the area, forecasters said.
In north-west Montana, a fire sparked in grasslands near the town of Elmo had grown to about 17 square miles on Sunday after advancing into forest.
Crews worked along the edges of the fire, and aircraft were expected to continue to make water and retardant drops to help slow the fire’s advance, said Sara Rouse, a spokesperson for the inter-agency team assigned to the fire.
High temperatures and erratic winds that can help fan flames were predicted, she said.
In Idaho, the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest has burned on more than 75 square miles in timbered land near the town of Salmon, and was 21% contained by Sunday.
In California, governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Saturday, allowing him more flexibility to make response and recovery effort decisions and to access federal aid.
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.
The US Forest service shut down a 110-mile section of the famed Pacific Coast trail in northern California and southern Oregon and hikers in that area were urged to abandon their treks and head to the nearest towns.