On July 29, 2022, firefighters responded to a wildfire on the Oak Knoll Ranger District of the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County, California. The California wildfire now known as the McKinney Fire spread and consumed more than 60,000 acres. At least four people have died in the McKinney fire and 11 people sustained injuries. Others lost their homes, businesses, animals, and other property. It is the largest California wildfire to date for 2022.
The McKinney wildfire started at approximately 2:15 p.m. local time near the Klamath River. Locals have said they believe the fire may have started after an issue with a power line in the area. "This powerline was being worked on right next to [my] neighbor's property the night before the fire started,” says Matt Howe, who has lived in the area since 2017.
Radio dispatches from emergency responders indicated the incident began as a half-acre vegetation fire underneath a power line. But the blaze spread quickly, and by around 6:00 p.m. local time, Howe had to quickly evacuate his family’s farm.
According to Howe, he did not receive any evacuation orders. He happened to open his Facebook app and noticed a post from the Siskiyou County Scanner that said “McKinney Creek, power lines engulfed.” Howe gathered what he could and quickly got out of harm’s way.
“It got on us so fast. So fast. I’ve never seen fire move like that,” Howe said.
McKinney Fire Deaths
In the days following the McKinney wildfire, authorities found the remains of four people. One of them was identified as 73-year-old Kathy Shoopman, a "beloved" U.S. Forest Service employee who died in her home in the Klamath River area. Shoopman began her career in forestry in 1974 as a lookout at Baldy Mountain Lookout, which is west of Happy Camp. She later worked at the Lake Mountain Lookout and Buckhorn lookouts.
While the other three have not yet been identified pending notification of next of kin, all lived in the Klamath River community. One was found in their residence and the other two were found in a car parked in the driveway of a residence. Officials believe the two in their vehicle were attempting to escape the fire when they were killed.
McKinney Wildfire Leaves Victims Homeless
Some in the Klamath River community lost their homes in the McKinney Fire. Matt Howe told the media that his farm burned to the ground along with all of his possessions. According to CalFire, at least 185 structures, including single-family residences, commercial, and other spaces, were destroyed in the McKinney Fire. Eleven other structures sustained damage.
McKinney Fire Containment and Updates for Klamath River Residents
The best way for residents to stay updated on the McKinney Fire is via the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office. On August 10, 2022, residents that live along State Route 96 were allowed to return to their property to assess the damage. The Siskiyou County Environmental Health is working with affected residents to grant clearance for access to return to their property.
On August 11, 2022, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office reopened Highway 96 in the McKinney Fire area for piloted traffic only. The opening applies to the section of Highway 96 that runs along the Klamath River from Beaver Creek to Kohl Creek. Residents that live along the highway will be able to access to their property on Thursday, August 11 and Friday, August 12. According to Sheriff’s Office officials, residents first need to meet with Siskiyou Environmental Health representatives at the Collier Rest Area off Interstate 5 between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time to be cleared before going to their homes.
What Should I Do After a Wildfire?
If you or a family member were harmed in any way by a wildfire, you have rights. From wrongful death to personal injury to property damage, it is important for you to take steps to ensure that these rights are protected. Even if you believe you have an insurance policy that will cover your losses, we advise you to do the following:
- If you are insured, contact your insurance company immediately. Request a copy of your insurance policy and inform the company of your loss.
- Document everything you can, from medical records and bills to all correspondence with your insurance company. Take photographs of your damaged property.
- Create a list of everything you lost in the fire, or anything damaged.
- Keep receipts for any money you spent while you were evacuated, including food, clothes, and lodging.
- Call a lawyer as early in the process as you can to reduce the chances of insurance bad faith. Bad faith is essentially unfair conduct on the part of an insurance company that exceeds mere negligence. An example of a bad faith claim would be if your insurance policy covers your losses, and the company arbitrarily refuses to settle a claim within the policy’s limits. Unfortunately, as wildfire attorneys, we see this often with insurance companies.
California Wildfire Lawyer Team with Proven Track Record
If you or a family member suffered harm as a result of a wildfire, you need an experienced lawyer to represent your interests and fight for maximum compensation on your behalf. Most Californians believe they have a solid insurance policy that will cover their losses in the event of a wildfire. However, when tragedy strikes, we have found that many insurance policies fail to provide an adequate amount to reimburse homeowners, renters, and business owners for their losses.
A seasoned wildfire lawyer team can help level the playing field. Our firm goes beyond recovering property damages; victims should also be compensated for physical, emotional, financial, and other damages stemming from the fire, evacuation, and recovery.
Your first step toward resolving insurance issues or pursuing a claim against a responsible party should be to retain an experienced wildfire lawyer to advocate on your behalf. At Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, we have helped victims of the Camp Fire, the Woolsey Fire, the Thomas Fire, and the Bobcat Fire. Our attorneys have obtained justice and maximum compensation for thousands of clients across all areas of practice. With a proven track record of success litigating cases for wildfire victims, your case is in good hands with our award-winning legal team.