Strong winds expected to blow through the Shasta Valley could hamper progress made by thousands of firefighters in recent days in controlling the massive and deadly McKinney wildfire that burns on the California-Oregon border.
Since the fire started in the Klamath National Forest late last month, the blaze has killed four people, destroyed 87 homes and consumed 60,044 acres, but the spread has slowed in recent days, with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection 30% reports inclusion. It is the largest wildfire in the state so far this year.
Forecasts of gusts up to 30 mph pose significant new risks and have prompted the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon, to prepare for a red flag warning for Yreka, California and other parts of the valley along Interstate 5 from Sunday afternoon.
“If you put a lot of wind on a fire, a lot of bad things can happen,” said Ryan Sandler, one of the meteorologists monitoring the situation. Dangerous wind conditions are expected at least until Monday.
CalFire Information Officer Aaron Johnson said about 2,700 crew members will continue to dig and maintain control lines around and through the fire, but prepare for the possibility of more intense flames and new fires.
“With the high winds, it could potentially cause fires,” Johnson said.
Siskiyou County has seen days of 90 and 100 degree heat and very low humidity, and the addition of the strong winds puts the fire at risk of becoming “plume dominated” with massive clouds and erratic behavior, Sandler said. Winds can reach up to 30 mph in the valley floor and up to 20 mph in the more mountainous area where the fire is burning.
“Because the atmosphere is so hot, dry and unstable, the fire can actually create its own weather,” he said.
In some parts of the blaze, up to 3 inches of rain fell last week, but the intense heat quickly dried out the soil and vegetation, and no thunderstorms are expected next week.