YREKA, Calif. – Victims of California’s largest and deadliest wildfire of the year have been identified as attention turns to finding the cause that sparked the massive inferno.
The McKinney Fire is believed to have started on July 29 and rapidly grew, consuming more than 60,000 acres in and around the Klamath National Forest.
The explosive nature of the blaze caught many off-guard, and firefighters report around 200 structures were either damaged or destroyed.
Human remains were found within the burned debris, and the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said they used DNA technology and dental analysis to identify the victims.
On Friday, deputies identified the deceased as:
- Kathleen Shoopman, age 73
- Charles Kays, age 79
- Judith Kays, age 82
- John Cogan, age 76
Deputies believe all were California residents from the Klamath River community, which was severely impacted by the fire.
"The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victims. If you are willing, please keep those affected by this fire in your prayers" Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said in a statement.
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The cause of the wildfire is still under investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, but a recently filed lawsuit claims utility infrastructure sparked the flames.
The lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court alleges infrastructure managed by PacifiCorp, the region’s utility company, could have ignited dry brush, which quickly spread.
"According to the complaint, PacifiCorp, caused utility infrastructure contact creating sparks that ignited dry vegetation and debris. As it was PacifiCorp’s responsibility to manage these utility lines, easements and other right of way issues, PacifiCorp is accused of completely failing in its obligation to maintain its equipment," a statement from the law firm read.
A PacifiCorp spokesperson declined to comment on the situation, citing the ongoing litigation.
If investigators find utility infrastructure to be the cause of the wildfire, it wouldn’t be the first time a blaze was sparked by electrical equipment.
California’s Utility Commission said PacifiCorp reported 11 wildfire ignitions caused by equipment in 2019, and dozens of other fires have been attributed to other electrical providers over recent years.
The threats caused by the combination of power lines and dry brush has plagued California for decades and has led to some of the state’s largest wildfires.
A recent audit said efforts by some of the state’s largest utility companies have failed to address safety concerns, leaving nearly 40,000 miles of power lines exposed in high fire-threat areas.