Transportation

At least one dead as Klamathon Fire tops 9,600 acres, remains state of emergency

One person has died in the Klamathon Fire near the California-Oregon border, the Siskiyou County Sheriff Department and Cal Fire Siskiyou confirmed Friday morning on social media.

The death was a civilian fatality, but identification is pending investigation and notification to the next of kin, Cal Fire tweeted.

A fast-moving fire in Siskiyou County that closed Interstate 5 on Thursday from Yreka to Ashland, Oregon, and forced evacuations on Thursday afternoon has grown to 9,600 acres and reached only 5 percent containment as of 7 p.m. Friday. The explosive growth in its first few hours, coupled with the risk to people and property prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency on Thursday.

The Klamathon Fire has destroyed several structures and is threatening more in Hornbrook, Cal Fire said. About 250 people live in the unincorporated town, 15 miles north of Yreka. The fire started around noon southeast of the town, according to the Mail Tribune of Medford, Oregon, and exploded from 1,000 acres around 5 p.m Thursday.

An evacuation order is in effect for Klamathon Road from I-5 to Ager, and all of Hornbrook, including Hilt/Colestein Valley.

I-5, which was previously closed, has been reopened in both directions as of 7 a.m. Friday.

Photos on social media, retweeted by Caltrans and other agencies, showed flames along I-5 in several places, including the fire jumping Cottonwood Creek, which crosses the freeway a mile north of Hornbrook. An evacuation shelter has been set up at the Jackson Street School in Yreka, Cal Fire said, and a large animal shelter was being set up at the Siskiyou County Fairgrounds. Across the border, Red Cross officials have set up a shelter at Ashland High School.

State resources, including employees, provisions and facilities, will be devoted to battling the fire, according to the governor's announcement. The California Office of Emergency Services will provide assistance to Siskiyou County officials as needed. Already, according to a retweet by CalOES, two officials from the Los Angeles Fire Department have been sent to help map the fire area.

The declaration cited the circumstances of the fire – including high heat, wind and lack of humidity – to be "beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of any single local government and require the combined forces of a mutual aid or regions to combat."

Brown's declaration also said that the fire had "destroyed structures and continues to threaten additional homes and livestock" and continues to threaten the "critical infrastructure" of I-5, the largest north-south transportation artery for the West Coast.

Additionally, a Fire Management Assistance Grant from FEMA has been secured to assist in firefighting and relief efforts, according to a tweet from the California Office of Emergency Services. According to FEMA, the request for a grant is fulfilled when a "threat of major disaster" exists.

The California Highway Patrol halted all northbound traffic at the North Yreka exit while the Oregon Department of Transportation had stopped all traffic from entering California from South Ashland, Caltrans tweeted Thursday. As of Friday morning, the I-5 was no longer closed.

Northbound travelers through the area are utilizing U.S. Highway 97 near Weed to Oregon Highway 140 in Klamath Falls or farther north to Oregon Highway 58 north of Chemult, according to officials from both state transportation agencies.

Spokesman Gary Leaming told the Mail Tribune that ODOT also has closed Old Highway 99, which runs south from the Emigrant Lake area, to stem the flow of traffic trying to bypass the closure.

The Bee's Julia Sclafani contributed to this report.

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