IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

McKinney Fire leaves Northern California residents grappling with loss and devastation

For many in Klamath River, the fire has claimed their homes and belongings, but not their spirit.
Image: McKinney Fire
Flames make an upslope run at the McKinney Fire, in the Klamath National Forest near Yreka, Calif., on Aug. 2, 2022.David McNew / AFP - Getty Images

As the deadly McKinney Fire spread to nearly 59,000 acres in Northern California, some residents are discovering the blaze has left them with nothing — their homes and personal belongings vanishing in the ashes.

Nicole Kurkowski, 32, lived in her trailer in Klamath River for eight years with her children Kyra, 10, and Braydàn, 13. As the flames drew nearer to their home last week, they grabbed what they could and ran. 

“I could hear the crackling, and I could hear trees falling and I could hear the fire,” Kurkowski said. “The ash and embers [were] going in my eyes.” 

As they drove away, the family realized they would likely never be returning to that home.  

“Devastating,” Kurkowski said, her voice quavering. “There’s no word that I can use to describe it except for devastating. I lost pretty much everything I owned.”

Nicole with her son and daughter.
Nicole with her son and daughter.Courtesy Judy Donley

The fire, which has claimed four lives, was 10 percent contained by Thursday, and crews continued to make progress, fire officials said. 

Kurkowski and her children are staying in nearby Yreka, in Siskiyou County. 

Some residents in Yreka were allowed to return home, as firefighters continued to advance on the fire, officials said in a community meeting Wednesday evening. 

Authorities are still warning that rising temperatures and decreasing humidity levels could cause the fire to grow.

Brenda and Michael Nowdesha.
Brenda and Michael Nowdesha.Courtesy Abbi Nowdesha

Though Brenda and Michael Nowdesha lost much of their Klamath River ranch — including barns and animals — the couple is choosing to focus on the future. 

“It’s just the family home, and we want to try and keep it going,” said Brenda Nowdesha, 72. 

The ranch has been in her family for generations. She moved there in 1954 and grew up on the farm. The McKinney Fire is the first that’s ever impacted the ranch. 

“There’s a lot of history there,” said Michael Nowdesha, 73.

When he returned to the site this week, he found his home in ruins. 

Still, the family said that they have hope for the future and are determined to preserve the family’s history. 

“As soon as they allow us back down, we plan on cleaning up and getting ready to rebuild,” Brenda Nowdesha said. 

Nowdesha ranch.
Nowdesha ranch.Courtesy Nowdesha family

For others, like Dalton Shute, the fire brings back painful memories.

Shute, 28, evacuated July 29 with his roommates and their two kids — an 11-year-old and an 18-month-old. They got out of the house just as the smoke started to bloom.

On Saturday, a neighbor texted Shute and said his house did not survive the fire. 

“It was a lot of adrenaline and panic,” he said. 

When he was 6 years old, Shute lost his mother in a house fire. Although he wasn’t inside the house when it happened, he said he'll never forget the moment he found out.

“It’s just that same emptiness that I felt as a kid, really,” Shute said. “It doesn’t feel real.”