LOS ANGELES — Dozens of hikers were rescued from the Pacific Crest Trail over the weekend as the McKinney fire continues to ravage Northern California’s Klamath National Forest.
Sixty people were rescued Saturday afternoon on the California side of the trail at Red Buttes Wilderness, officials with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon said. The evacuation was an assist with the Siskiyou County sheriff’s search and rescue team.
“The difference with the hikers on the trail is they’re not as mobile,” Jackson County sheriff’s public information officer Aaron Lewis said. “(We) went to trailheads near roads and started gathering hikers. They weren’t necessarily in immediate danger.”
The hikers were transported from Road Junction 1055 to Seattle Bar at Applegate Lake before being taken to Medford or Ashland, Oregon authorities said.
As of Monday morning, the McKinney fire — the largest this year in California — had torched 55,493 acres in the Klamath National Forest near the California-Oregon border. Authorities announced Monday that two people were found dead inside a charred car in the fire zone. The blaze is 0% contained.
The fire is blowing smoke and ash into Jackson County, but there wasn’t a direct threat to the community as of the weekend, officials said.
The U.S. Forest Service has closed 110 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through Aug. 30 because of the fire. The closure is from Etna Summit in Northern California to Mount Ashland Campground in southern Oregon.
Violators of the emergency closure could face fines of $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization and up to six months in jail.
“If you are on the PCT in this area, please evacuate to the closest town,” the trail’s website warns.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through Monday night for portions of Oregon as fire crews brace for thunderstorms that could exacerbate conditions.
“We don’t have the advantage we had yesterday of the inversion (layer), which makes it really smoky, but it also means the fire can’t build — so it suppresses the fire,” U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Carolina Quintanilla said. “Yesterday we didn’t have the explosive growth that we had the day before.”
Lightning strikes and gusty winds during upcoming storms could ignite dry fuels and further fuel the blaze, Quintanilla said.
“With thunderstorms, when the cells build, they create erratic winds, and sometimes they bring precipitation but sometimes they do not,” she said. “The rain that we got yesterday from the lightning storms made the grass not as flammable, but the trees and large brush, that is still very dry from the long drought that we’ve been experiencing.”
Thunderstorms are expected around noon and likely to continue into Tuesday, according to the weather service.