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Containment grows on McKinney Fire

Red flag warnings through Monday have firefighters working rapidly to shore up containment lines
The McKinney Fire is seen from bridge at Walker Road and Highway 96 looking southeast. [Inciweb photo]

Containment on the McKinney Fire burning near the Oregon border in Northern California grew to 40% over the weekend and was listed Sunday at 60,271 acres, up 227 acres from Saturday.

A red flag warning through Monday for potentially high winds, high temperatures, low humidity and the possibility of thunderstorms had firefighters casting a wary eye toward the sky, but incident commanders were guardedly optimistic Sunday they were on the path to reigning in California’s largest blaze of the year.

On the northwest corner of the fire, an area of concern due to unlined areas of steep ground with the potential to carry the fire away from containment, “crews have gotten in there and we got everything lined in,” said Dennis Burns, California Interagency Incident Management Team fire behavior analyst, in a fire briefing Sunday. “We’ve got hose in place ... and crews are seeking and destroying anything near the lines.”

That’s pretty much the same story all the way around to the south end of the fire, the portion above Fort Jones, Burns said. “The plan (Sunday) was to get in there and start eliminating hotspots,” he added.

“Our Achilles heel” is still the north side of the fire, “going from the (Klamath River) up to the mountaintop. We have about a mile of hand lines to construct, and it is is super, super steep ground.”

The big story for (Sunday and Monday) “and possibly into Tuesday,” Burns said, “is the red flag warning out for not only high winds and low relative humidity but extremely unstable conditions in the atmosphere, which means anything that gets across our lines is going to grow rapidly.

“We are not anticipating any forward movement on the fire, but unfortunately we have some unburned islands ... with heat in it, so anything within the interior that would be able to gain momentum has the potential to throw spot fires out over our lines,” he said.

“What the fire could do is go from a wind-driven fire, which is actually pretty difficult to keep up with, and it could transition with the instability to what we call plume-dominated fire, and that’s where the fire is actually controlling the environment around it,” he explained.

“A couple of the unfortunate things about that is if the winds get above 25 mph, we’re not able to use aircraft, because they’re just not effective, especially helicopters. The water they drop out of the buckets gets spread out by the wind, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping everything stays within the lines,” Burns said.

“The good thing about the wind events is that they are short-term, mainly from about 2 in the afternooon to just after sundown, so they are not a long-term event like with a Santa Ana winds down in Southern California.”

On the Yeti and Alex fires, burning west of the McKinney Fire along the Klamath River west of Seiad Valley, the overall size was listed Sunday at 8,029 acres.

The Alex Fire was reported at 151 acres with 80% containment, while the Yeti Fire was 7,878 acres and 19% contained, according to InciWeb.

Reach Mail Tribune editor David Smigelski at 541-776-4484 or dsmigelski@rosebudmedia.com.