She was a fixture in the Klamath National Forest, a veteran wildfire lookout who was known for her pinpoint accuracy when it came to determining the location of new ignitions.
But this fire came too quickly to escape.
Kathy Shoopman, a longtime employee of the U.S. Forest Service, was among the four people killed in the McKinney Fire — the largest and deadliest wildfire of the year so far in California.
Forest Service spokesperson Tom Stokesberry said Monday that Shoopman, 73, died at her home in the community of Klamath River on July 29, the day the fire erupted.
Officials said they’d thought they could contain the fire to a few hundred acres, but a thunderstorm hours after the fire started brought fierce winds and caused the McKinney to explode to 18,000 acres within a few hours, bearing down on Klamath River.
“During the initial push of the fire, the thunder cell collapsed, … and she was caught in her home,” said Stokesberry, a fire public affairs specialist with the agency.
All four people who died in the fire lived in the Klamath River community, which was ordered evacuated July 29. Officials have lamented the reluctance of some rural residents to obey evacuation orders, but Stokesberry said Shoopman was overwhelmed by the fast-moving fire.
“The way that fire pushed through there, it left little time,” Stokesberry said.
He said Shoopman was an employee with the agency since 1974, working at various lookout stations. Her post since 1993 was the Buckhorn lookout, about four miles north of Klamath River.
“She was pretty much a legend in that community, named ‘lookout of the year’ in 2015,” Stokesberry said.
When lookouts spot smoke, it isn’t always obvious where the actual fire is. Stokesberry said firefighters grew to rely on Shoopman for accuracy.
“When Kathy called in a smoke, they knew it was spot-on,” he said.
The fire was reported at 60,379 acres and was 40% contained Monday.
Shoopman was the first victim to have been positively identified. Friends have told The Sacramento Bee that a man named John Kogan, also of Klamath River, is believed to have died in the fire.