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Firefighters have brought California’s deadliest and most destructive fires under control for the first time this year and are expected to continue through the weekend.

The McKinney fire near the Oregon border was 10 percent contained as of Wednesday night, and bulldozers and hand crews were making progress to draw firebreaks around the rest of the blaze, fire officials said at a community meeting.

The southeastern corner of the fire above Yreka, the county seat of Sisko, which has about 7,800 residents, is under control. Evacuation orders for the town and parts of Hawkinsville were downgraded to warnings allowing people to return to their homes, but the warnings said the situation remained dangerous.

About 1,300 residents remain under evacuation orders, officials said.

The blaze did not continue to spread on Wednesday as thunderstorms brought several days of brief but heavy rain, bringing cloudy, wet conditions.

“It’s a sleeping giant right now,” said Darryl Laws, the unification incident commander in the blaze.

Additionally, firefighters are expected to completely surround the 1,000-acre (404-hectare) live fire on the northern edge of the McKinney Fire Thursday.

The fires, which broke out on Friday, scorched nearly 90 square miles (233 square kilometers) of woodland, parched by drought. More than 100 homes and other structures were burned, and four bodies were found, two of them in a burnt car in the driveway.

The blaze was initially driven by strong winds in front of the thunderstorm unit. More storms earlier in the week proved mixed. Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst, said a downpour dumped 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in some areas east of the blaze on Tuesday, but there was little in most of the fire area.

Recent storms have also raised concerns about possible river flooding and mudslides. A private contractor in a pickup truck who was assisting with firefighting efforts was injured when a bridge collapsed and washed away vehicles, Creed said. The contractor’s life was not in danger, she said.

However, Burns said no weather events that could allow the fire to “spread” were forecast for the next three or four days.

The good news came too late for many in the small, scenic village of Klamath River, which was home to about 200 people before the fire razed many homes, as well as the post office, community center and other buildings.

At the evacuation center on Wednesday, Bill Sims said three of the four victims were his neighbors. Two were a married couple living down the road.

“I don’t get emotional about things and material things,” Sims said. “But when you hear that my next-door neighbor has passed away…you get a little emotional.”

Their names have not been officially confirmed, which could take days, said Courtney Kreider, a spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office.

Retiree Sims, 65, bought his property six years ago as a second home for hunting and fishing. He went back to inspect his property on Tuesday and found it was destroyed.

“The house, the hotel and the RV are gone. It’s just wasteland, destruction,” Sims said. He found the body of one of his two cats and buried it. Another cat is still missing. He was able to take his two dogs to the shelter.

Harlene Schwander, 82, lost the house she moved into a month ago to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law. Their home survived, but hers burned down.

Artist Schwand said she was given only a few family photos and some jewelry before the evacuation. Everything else – including her art collection – was on fire.

“I’m heartbroken. Everyone says it’s just something, but it’s all I have,” she said.

California and much of the rest of the West is in drought, wildfire danger is high, and the worst fire season on record is yet to come. Fires burned in Montana, Idaho and Nebraska, destroying homes and threatening communities.

Climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive, scientists say. California has seen the largest, most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the past five years. In 2018, a fire in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada devastated much of Paradise, killing 85 people, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century.

In northwest Montana, a fire burned at least four homes and forced the evacuation of about 150 residents west of Flathead Lake, fire officials said.

Public information officer Sara Rouse told NBC Montana that crews had to evacuate the production line Wednesday afternoon due to increased fire activity.

Officials said there were concerns that the blaze could reach Lake Mary Ronan by Wednesday night.

The fire, which began on July 29 in the grass on the Flathead Indian Reservation, quickly spread to wood and scorched nearly 29 square miles (76 square kilometers).

The moose fire in Idaho burned more than 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) in the Salmon-Charles National Forest, while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon.

A wildfire in northwest Nebraska led to the evacuation of residents and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small city of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire began Saturday as two separate fires merged.


Webb reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporters Amy Hansen in Helena, Montana; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; and Keith Ridler and Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho contributed to this report.

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