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Gruesome discovery amid McKinney Fire wreckage; 2 bodies found in burned out car

Deadly McKinney Fire burns towards Oregon border
Deadly McKinney Fire burns towards Oregon border 02:26

YREKA (CBS SF/AP) —Authorities have discovered two bodies in a burned vehicle in the path of a raging McKinney Fire that has destroyed much of the small community of Klamath River, charred 55,500 acres and had zero percent containment.

The fire exploded in size to more than 82 square miles after erupting Friday in a largely unpopulated area in the Klamath National Forest just south of the Oregon state line. It is California's largest wildfire of the year so far.

"The fuel beds are so dry and they can just erupt from that lightning," U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Adrienne Freeman said. "These thunder cells come with gusty erratic winds that can blow fire in every direction."

Two bodies were found Sunday inside the charred vehicle located in a residential driveway near the remote community of Klamath River, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Monday. The victims were not immediately identified.

Flames torched trees along State Route 96 and raced through hillsides in sight of homes on Sunday. The blaze cast an eerie, orange-brown hue, in one neighborhood where a brick chimney stood surrounded by rubble and scorched vehicles. Crews on the ground worked to keep the fire from moving east into the town of Yreka, home to 7,500 people.

As the McKinney fire threatened, some residents chose to stay behind while others heeded orders to leave.

Larry Castle and his wife, Nancy, were among about 2,000 residents of the Yreka area under evacuation orders. They left Saturday with some of their prized possessions, including Larry's motorcycle, and took their dogs to stay with their daughter near Mount Shasta.

Larry Castle said he wasn't taking any chances after seeing the explosive growth of major fires in recent years.

"You look back at the Paradise fire and the Santa Rosa fire and you realize this stuff is very, very serious," he said.

A second, smaller fire just to the west that was sparked by dry lightning Saturday threatened the tiny town of Seiad. About 400 structures were under threat from the two California fires. Authorities have not confirmed the extent of the damage yet, saying assessments would begin when it was safe to reach the area.

A third fire, which was on the southwest end of the McKinney blaze, prompted evacuation orders for around 500 homes Sunday, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office. The office said crews had been on the scene of the fire since late Saturday but by the following morning it "became active and escaped its containment line."

Several people in the sheriff's office have been affected by evacuation orders due to the fires "and they're still showing up to work so, (a) very dedicated crew," she said. A deputy lost his childhood home to fire on Friday, she said.

Thunderstorms that brought barrages of lightning and threatened to spark new fires in dry fuel beds in Northern California were expected to move out starting Monday, forecasters said.

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