U.S. Forest Service lookout dies in McKinney Fire when she wouldn't evacuate

A U.S. Forest Service fire lookout of 50 years died when she didn't heed advice to leave her home, which was overtaken by the McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County, officials said. 

Kathy Shoopman, 74, died July 29 at her Klamath River home. During a news conference on Monday, the Forest Service said she was one of four people who died in the fire. The names of the other three have not been released. 

The exact circumstances of her death were unclear, but she did not leave the area, even though she had been told to evacuate on Friday, Rachel Smith, the Klamath National Forest supervisor, said. Shoopman told officials she'd be "more comfortable" remaining at home, Smith said. 

Smith took a moment of silence to honor Shoopman during the news update. 

Shoopman lived in the community of Klamath River along the Highway 96 corridor for nearly 50 years, meaning that her home was among the many under her watch, the East Bay Times reported. 

Jennifer Erickson, a spokesperson for the Klamath National Forest, said: "During the initial attack of it a thunder cell came over it and caused the fire to grow very rapidly and Kathy was in her home in the community of Klamath River."

Shoopman's job was to spot fires when they first ignited and report that information to firefighters. She was a former elementary school teacher.

She began her lookout career in 1974 at the Baldy Mountain Lookout, west of the community of Happy Camp. She often worked alongside her dog or cat named Kitty. 

In 1993, she transitioned to the Buckhorn Lookout, about four miles north of the Klamath River community.  The lookout sits at over 5,000 feet, and Shoopman usually worked alone, but she was well known by her regular radio transmissions. "So she is really a part of this forest. She is part of a tight knit community and her co-workers are used to hearing her on the radio and she had a voice that was very familiar to everybody," Erickson said.

Shoopman was named the Klamath National Forest "fire lookout of the year" in 2014. She is survived by her sister. 

This story was reported in Oakland, Calif.