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McKinney Fire victim worked as fire lookout

Shoopman was home at time of death

Firefighters battling the McKinney Fire in Northern California bowed their heads Monday and remembered long-time fire lookout Kathy Shoopman, the first publicly identified victim of the fire.

The fire burning west of Yreka has claimed four lives, although teams continue to search the area for more potential victims. The other three have not been publicly identified yet. The four died in their homes and a vehicle.

Shoopman was at home in the small community of Klamath River when the fire broke out Friday, July 29.

Fire officials originally thought they could contain it at a few hundred acres, but strong downdraft winds from a thunderstorm cause the McKinney Fire to explode to 18,000 acres within a few hours. All four victims were from the community of Klamath River. The area was hard hit by the fire, with many homes burned.

“She had a home there that she’d stayed in for 50 years, and when she was asked to evacuate that first Friday night, she said she’d be more comfortable staying,” Klamath National Forest Supervisor Rachel Smith said in a Monday morning firefighter briefing.

Klamath National Forest officials said Shoopman started her career at the Baldy Mountain Lookout in 1974. She later staffed the Lake Mountain Lookout before switching to the Buckhorn Lookout.

Community members said she had been a school teacher before she started working for the U.S. Forest Service.

Smith told assembled firefighters at the Monday morning briefing that people would be available to talk to them about dealing with Shoopman’s death if needed.

“Be aware as you’re going out there that standing beside you are some of Kathy’s co-workers, her friends, her long-time colleagues, her neighbors in Klamath River. Please be safe out there, and have a safe day,” Smith said.

Firefighters are not only dealing with the threat from smoke and flames, but from hot temperatures.

Three people were treated for heat-related illnesses Sunday, fire managers said.

The U.S. Forest Service released Shoopman’s name at the request of her older sister, Tom Stokesberry, a spokesperson for the service’s northern operations division, told the San Francisco Chronicle Monday.

“We’re obviously waiting for positive identification, but the family has asked that we start to honor her,” he said.

Stokesberry told the media Shoopman was overwhelmed by the fast-moving fire.

“During the initial push of the fire, the thunder cell collapsed ... and she was caught in her home,” he said.

During her career as a lookout, Shoopman was known for her pinpoint accuracy in identifying the location of new fire starts. She was named “Lookout of the Year” in 2015.

“When Kathy called in a smoke, they knew it was spot-on,” Stokesberry said.

Born in 1948, Shoopman was a gardener, talented artist and animal lover, Klamath National Forest officials said.

“We share this sorrow with each and every one of you, and we know that individually, and as the supportive community that we are, we will find many ways to honor Kathy’s life and service and keep her spirit in all of our lives,” Forest Service officials said in a Monday Facebook post announcing her death.

By Monday afternoon, hundreds of people had posted Facebook comments expressing condolences, sharing memories of Shoopman and thanking her and other fire personnel for their service.

“Thank you for your watchful eye and dedication to our beloved Klamath National Forest and River community,” one woman wrote.

Of 274 structures inspected by Friday, the McKinney Fire has destroyed at least 87 homes plus 47 structures like garages and business buildings, according to an initial assessment by the Siskiyou County Office of Emergency Management.

The initial damage assessment was about half done at the time of the Friday report, the office said.

On Monday morning, the McKinney Fire was at 60,379 acres with 40% containment.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.