Lightning storm possibly caused McKinney Fire

Out of control and still uncontained, the McKinney Fire continues to burn, having consumed more than 55,000 acres so far. What and how the fire started is still under investigation, but those monitoring the fire are looking at lightning as a potential cause.

"When you get lightning, you get them in really big clumps and that makes it really difficult — 100 fires instantly in one weekend," said Scott Stephens, UC Berkeley's Wildfire Lab Director.

"We would have hundreds of fires reported," said Carrie Bilbao of the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center.

Rain has slowed the fire’s progress, helping firefighters. But the hot weather is expected to return, and erratic winds and heat are continuing to fan the flames.

"It does put a lot of stress on our resources for one because we're fighting a lot of fires at once," added Bilbao.

Recently, two people were found dead in a vehicle in a residential driveway directly in the fast-spreading fire's path.

Two thousand people have already been forced to evacuate, but that number could increase if the fire explodes again.

Early reports say that by the Klamath River, population 190, nearly every home in town has burned to the ground.

"The area is very rural. We are noticing that there are quite a few people that are helping each other, which is a really wonderful thing in this time of lots of stress," said Siskiyou County Official Roxanne Strangfeld.

If officials determine that lightning is the fire's cause, it would be the third lightning-caused mega fire in the county in 14 years.

In July of last year, the lightning caused the River Complex Fire in Siskiyou and Trinity counties, burning some 200,000 acres and destroying 122 homes and structures.

Back in 2008, lightning caused Klamath Theater Complex Fire in Siskiyou County, which consumed 192,000 acres and killed two people.

"When you get embers thrown out miles ahead, if they come down on these incredibly dry fuel beds, they are so efficient at starting new fires," said Stephens.

Park Williams, a fire expert at UCLA, calculated that from 1992 through 2015, there was an almost fivefold increase in the amount of land burned caused by lightning in the western part of the United States.

"Sometimes with the conditions, with the winds that come with the storms, you can't put people out there right away," said Bilbao.

Stephens notes that the warming atmosphere is likely going to worsen conditions.

"Research has shown, pretty conclusively, as the atmosphere warms, [we get] more energy in that atmosphere, and we expect more lightning," said Stephens.

Some 2 million people in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska spent the day under a Red Flag Warning.