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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Firefighters work their way up steep terrain off of Ditch Creek Road inside the Klamathon fire in California.

Firefighter burned, six dozen structures destroyed in Klamathon fire

Nearly six dozen structures have been consumed and a firefighter’s face was burned during the mushrooming Klamathon fire, which by late Saturday had marched through 22,000 acres in Northern California and across the Oregon border and prompted nearly 1,400 evacuations in Siskiyou County.

Brandon Feller was fighting the fire shortly after it started Thursday when his engine was “burned over” and he sustained severe burns to his face, according to a GoFundMe account that raised $17,627 within five hours Saturday. He was flown to the University of California Davis Burn Center and is recovering, the page said.

A resident also was killed in the fire, though officials have yet to release a name. The person’s body was found in the ruins of a home in the initial evacuation area on Friday.

More than 1,000 firefighters and dozens of engines, tenders and helicopters have contained 20 percent of the blaze, but some 350 homes were immediately threatened as of Saturday evening, according to a multi-agency update.

Fire officials said 31 residences, three non-residential structures and 37 commercial outbuildings have been destroyed so far. The cause remains under investigation.

The fire had crossed the Oregon border by Saturday, but shifting winds prompted the blaze to spread southward back into California.

As the fire crept toward the residential community of Klamath River Estates, American Red Cross shelter volunteer Catherine Gilbert of Yreka, California, braced herself for another influx of people. The fire already ravaged the town of Hornbrook, Gilbert said, but “KRC,” the unincorporated area on Siskiyou County land with a homeowners association, is much more densely populated.

Gilbert had counted 50 people Friday at the emergency shelter set up at Jackson Street Elementary School in Yreka, but getting an accurate count was difficult because “people keep coming and going.” She anticipates the number to grow as those displaced who stayed in hotels run out of money.

Gilbert, who’s been helping take care of dogs displaced by the shelter, said Saturday evening’s dog numbers alone dramatically spiked, going from 24 to 80 as of 7:30 p.m.

“We’re still taking in more,” Gilbert said, later adding that Montague, California, was evacuating as well. The evacuation meant another influx of people and animals.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said at a press conference and community meeting in Yreka Saturday evening that his multi-agency team had evacuated 1,377 people with the help of Jackson County sheriff’s Capt. Tim Snaith and Lt. Tim Kennedy as well as personnel from the California Highway Patrol and California National Guard.

Lopey said 87 National Guard troops were expected to arrive Sunday to help law enforcement with entry points and checks in the evacuation areas.

Tensions flared at the community meeting as one Hornbrook resident complained of looters at the property she was ordered to evacuate and another said a Siskiyou County sheriff’s deputy nearly put him in jail before he could so much as close his garage.

At the same meeting, another expressed gratitude for Siskiyou County animal control for saving 50 horses.

Shasta Binnie of Yreka and her son, Bradley Ronnock, created a Facebook page called Hornbrook/Hilt Fire Donations, seeking to pair donations with need. Binnie said that the most-needed items are bottled water, toiletries and nonperishable foods that are easy to transport and eat.

“Power Bars and granola bars would be great,” Binnie said.

The Mail Tribune is collecting supplies at its production facility at 33 N. Fir St. on weekdays to be distributed to those in need by carriers from the Siskiyou Daily News.

The fire left many without power or water. The roof to a water treatment plant was destroyed, according to Siskiyou County Fire Warden Bill Ansell.

The shifting winds that ballooned the fire in Northern California largely spared Oregon, as the fire crept just past the state border before retreating back into California, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The fire spread less than a mile into Bureau of Land Management forestland in Oregon, keeping east of Interstate 5 near the Soda Mountain Wilderness. As of 3:30 p.m., the fire had moved southeast, according to ODF spokeswoman Melissa Cano.

“The fire activity has died down quite a bit, and is burning back into itself,” Cano said.

Though the Oregon portion of the fire is east of I-5, evacuation areas are west of the freeway. As of Saturday evening, Colestin Road remained at Level 3 “Go,” and Mt. Ashland Ski Road near Callahan’s Lodge was at Level 2, but Cano said a drop in evacuation levels was possible later that night.

“We’re going to go in and assess this afternoon, and hopefully reduce those levels,” Cano said. “That’s the goal.

Because the fire was threatening the biologically diverse Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Cano said ODF crews have been using every resource they have to attack the fire, located in thick wilderness with limited access. The shifting winds allowed crews to “build a huge containment wall” should the flames start moving back toward Oregon, Cano said.

“It is a full-suppression fire,” Cano said. “We are fighting this fire.”

The fire more than doubled in size Friday night into Saturday morning, spreading in multiple directions and again threatening the communities of Hornbrook and Hilt on the California side and Colestin in Oregon.

A Cal Fire update warns “there is a high potential for spread” into the Klamath National Forest, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and Jackson County. “Natural and cultural resources are threatened” on the two forests, as well as endangered species habitat in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and Soda Mountain Wilderness. A Verizon cell tower and Cal Fire’s Black Mountain Repeater, private timberlands and the Yreka Western Railroad were also threatened, the update said.

More than 1,000 fire personnel, 88 fire engines, 31 fire crews, 15 helicopters, five dozers and 11 water tenders are fighting the fire, the update said. More than 150,000 gallons of retardant had been pumped at the Medford Tanker Base as of Saturday morning for fighting the Klamathon fire, according to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.


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