Most of the California evacuations lifted for Klamathon Fire

Barry Kaye
Only the chimney remains of a residence on Oregon Street in Hornbrook on Monday, July 9, 2018. The home was destroyed in the Klamathon Fire on Thursday.

By the seventh day, overnight fire behavior on the Klamathon Fire was described Wednesday morning as minimal, and containment had increased to 60 percent.

The number of acres burned remained at 36,500, as it was 24 hours earlier. The number of structures threatened by the fire fell from more than 1,000 Tuesday evening to 315 Wednesday morning.

Most of the evacuations orders that remained by Wednesday morning were for Oregon residents.

Fire officials on Monday night were already growing increasingly optimistic about containing the wildfire that tore through the Klamath River Basin, killing a Hornbrook resident, injuring three firefighters and destroying 34 homes.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said Monday a second fatality in Hornbrook was being investigated. A cadaver dog taken through areas already burned “had a positive alert.” But Tuesday evening it was reported that a preliminary investigation by the Sheriff’s Office and investigators from CAL FIRE found no evidence of a deceased body in the rubble of a structure.

The Klamathon fire broke out at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 5 and was fueled by hot, dry winds with gusts to 40 mph. At one time Interstate 5 was temporarily shut down between Yreka and Ashland, and Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Siskiyou County.

Firefighters have been battling tinder dry brush and rugged terrain in trying to contain the fire, which has consumed more than 36,500 acres in California and Oregon. More than 80 total structures have burned in an early and troubling start to the California fire season. There are already 10 fires burning statewide.

Improving weather conditions, however, and hard work by an army of almost 3,000 firefighters bivouacked at the County Fairgrounds in Yreka finally made inroads, fire officials said.

Although only 45 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, several key battle lines were holding especially south of the Klamath River.

“Everything is looking really good there,” said Darryl Laws, local CAL FIRE battalion chief for the Yreka and Hornbrook areas. “They are actually pulling hose off some of those sections of line.”

Among the injured firefighters was Brandon Feller of Lake Shastina, according to a Gofundme page set up on social media. Feller posted a picture of himself with burns to his face. He was airlifted to the UC Davis Burn Center in Sacramento on Thursday.

Feller was reportedly injured during the early hours of the conflagration when his fire engine was overrun by flames. He was released from the hospital on Sunday. His Gofundme page in just 24 hours had reached its goal of raising $25,000 to help him with living expenses while he recovers.

Fire officials said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. It was first reported to the Yreka office of the California Highway Patrol.

One earlier fire-related fatality was confirmed. The deceased, according to CAL FIRE, “was located near a Hornbrook residence that was heavily damaged by fire.” An autopsy was planned for Wednesday, and CAL FIRE said positive identification of the deceased was still pending confirmation.

By Monday evening some local residents were being allowed to return to their homes. That was good news to Clint Garrison of Hornbrook, who evacuated with his wife and the two most important 11-year-old members of his family: his daughter and his dog.

Garrison said when he left, “It was raining ash.”

By Wednesday morning, most of the Klamathon Fire evacuations still in place were for Oregon residents. The only evacuations remaining for California residents were the Copco Lake Area, east of Jenny/Fall Creek, south of the Oregon State Line, north of Copco Road and west of Topsey Grade.

Fire officials said Monday was a particularly challenging day as gusty winds pushed the fire to the northeast into the Soda Mountain Wilderness area in Southern Oregon. The area has difficult access and steep, wooded terrain. They are hoping for better conditions later in the week.

Sean Luchs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the gusty winds that have plagued firefighters should begin to diminish by Tuesday, but will be replaced by triple digit temperatures and decreasing humidity later in the week. There is even the chance of thunderstorm activity by the weekend.

The decreasing winds were aiding fighting the fire from the air, as improved visibility allowed the deployment of helicopters, water tenders, two DC-10s and a Boeing 747.

Numerous firefighting air tankers were flying fire suppression missions as conditions allow as of Wednesday morning’s incident update.

-- Steve Gerace contributed to this report