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McKinney fire in California destroys a lifetime of memories

A hot drizzle Monday fell over the Weed Community Center, where almost all of the 157 camp beds assembled by the American Red Cross had been occupied by McKinney fire evacuees the night before.

Dozens of people ran around, some scared, others bored, as the fire raged in nearby Klamath National Forest. Many feared the worst, but for Harlene Schwander, 81, it had already happened: her home on Highway 96 was razed by the fire.

Harlene Schwander shares some of the family photos she was able to take before the McKinney fire destroyed her home

Harlene Schwander shares some of the family photos she was able to take before the McKinney fire destroyed their home in Weed, California on Monday. She and BJ Janowicz, left, are staying at the Red Cross emergency shelter.

(Haley Smith/Los Angeles Times)

“If I had known that, I would have gotten more,” said Schwander. “I would have taken my sunglasses! I wasn’t thinking.”

Schwander, an artist, said she has almost nothing left except the clothes on her back and the handful of family photos she snapped before she fled with her three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels on Saturday.

It was an anxious waiting game for residents across Siskiyou County as the McKinney Fire burned out of control, destroying an unknown number of homes and spreading across more than 55,000 acres, making it the largest fire this year in California. Authorities announced on Monday that two people were found dead in a car in the fire zone, although no further details were available.

About 650 firefighters battling the blaze had to deal with triple-digit heat and possible thunderstorms that could trigger dangerous conditions. About 10 other smaller fires burned in the Klamath National Forest.

Paisley Bamberg and her family spend time outside a shelter for McKinney Fire evacuees in Weed, California.

Paisley Bamberg and her family spend time outside a shelter for McKinney firefighters in Weed, California on Monday. Bamberg said they stayed there for several days while waiting to return home to Yreka.

(Noah Berger/Associated Press)

The fire broke out around 2:38 p.m. Friday near Highway 96 and McKinney Creek Road southwest of the Klamath River, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The cause is being investigated.

It grew explosively and now threatens several rural communities, including the town of Yreka.

Some neighborhoods on the west side of Yreka were ordered to evacuate, although officials said they saw little progress overnight at the edge of the fire closest to the city.
“Yreka is definitely of concern, as are other populated areas like Fort Jones,” said Caroline Quintanilla, spokeswoman for the US Forest Service. “That’s why we’re focused on protecting people, life and property.”

Melody Barnett rests at an American Red Cross shelter for McKinney Fire evacuees in Weed, California.

Melody Barnett rests Monday at an American Red Cross shelter for McKinney Fire evacuees in Weed, California. She is waiting to return home to Yreka.

(Noah Berger/Associated Press)

At the evacuation center in Weed, Schwander assessed everything she lost to the flames.

Among them were original paintings, photographs from her childhood and an antique rocking horse that Richard Nixon, according to family lore, rode as a baby.

Her daughter, who lives nearby, was able to save a suitcase full of jewelry.
“I’ll be naked but laden with jewels,” Schwander joked. However, despite her good mood, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do next. She lives on Social Security — about $700 a month — and said she couldn’t afford insurance for her house.

It was an all too familiar story for some residents of Siskiyou County who are no strangers to fire. Weed Mayor Kim Greene said much of the area was rebuilt after the Boles fire in 2014 and many residents still have vivid memories of that fire.

“What the folks in Weed who’ve lost and rebuilt will tell you — that’s the new normal,” she said. “Our slogan at Weed is, ‘You can cut it down, you can graze it, or you can burn it down,'” she said. “The state of California decides to burn it down.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-01/mckinney-fire-destroys-a-lifetime-of-memories-in-a-flash McKinney fire in California destroys a lifetime of memories

Alley Einstein

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