The McKinney Fire ignited on July 29th, 2022, and burned 60,138 acres in Siskiyou County. It was the deadliest fire of 2022 in California, causing the deaths of 4 civilians and injuring 12 more people. More than 5,800 people were evacuated, including 63 hikers who were rescued along the Pacific Crest Trail. 185 structures were destroyed, and at least 11 more structures were damaged. The fire burned many buildings in the small community of Klamath River, and rain led to debris flooding that is believed to have killed tens of thousands of fish in the Klamath River.
The McKinney Fire was declared 100% contained on September 7th, 2022. An official cause of the fire has not been determined, and the U.S. Forest Service has not released any details of the investigation. The fire reportedly ignited under a Pacific Power (PacifiCorp) distribution line. In late August 2022, NBC Bay Area reported that investigators suspected the fire was caused by a 60-foot tall Ponderosa Pine tree falling onto the 12,000-volt Scott Bar power line.
The county was experiencing extreme drought conditions and a heatwave with temperatures peaking in the triple digits that dried out vegetation in the region. Thunderstorm gusts (without rain) caused the fire to spread rapidly and grow to more than 50,000 acres in less than 2 days.
A statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. According to the California Judicial Branch, the statute of limitations for the following legal disputes in California are:
Personal injury: Two years from the injury. If the injury was not discovered right away, then it is 1 year from the date the injury was discovered.
Property damage: Three years from the date the damage occurred.
The McKinney Fire was first reported around 2:15 pm on July 29th near McKinney Creek Road, near a 12k volt distribution line owned by Pacific Power.
Early radio dispatches from a first responder described the fire as a half-acre vegetation fire located “underneath the power line right of way.” Yet, in Pacific Power’s Safety Incident Report submitted on August 4th, the utility did not indicate that an outage or electrical activity had occurred around the time of the fire’s ignition.
However, an outage was reported in the area at approximately 9 pm the night before. Service was restored at 5 am the morning of the fire after Pacific Power personnel couldn’t determine the cause of the outage. The utility said that the entire line was patrolled.
There was some initial speculation that the fire was caused by natural forces. Lightning strikes sparked several smaller fires nearby in the Klamath National Forest in the days leading up to the fire, including the 500-acre China 2 Fire. However, the U.S. Forest Service posted on Facebook on August 1st, 2022 saying, “Though the cause is still under investigation, it is clear this fire was not caused by lightning.”
While details of the investigation have not been officially released, NBC Bay Area’s investigative unit said there was mounting evidence that the McKinney Fire was sparked by a tree leaning on a power line. This was according to the news outlet’s sources, who said investigators were looking into a 60-foot Ponderosa Pine falling onto the 12,000-volt Scott Bar power line. The story was released at the end of August 2022, nearly a month after the fire started.
On August 16th, Singleton Schreiber filed a lawsuit on behalf of 5 plaintiffs affected by the McKinney Fire. The suit was filed against PacifiCorp and alleges sparks from the utility’s equipment sparked the fire. In an interview, managing partner Gerald Singleton questioned Pacific Power’s decision to turn the power back on when it didn’t know what caused the outage. While the firm could not definitively say the company started the fire, Singleton said the evidence available showed probable cause. The lawsuit further alleges PacifiCorp did not properly inspect or maintain its equipment, nor maintain a proper clearance from vegetation.
On August 22nd, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Theresa Cogan, whose father, John Cogan, died in the McKinney Fire. The fire killed Cogan and 3 others.
“The McKinney Fire was avoidable had PacifiCorp complied with the standard of care in inspecting, repairing, and maintaining its electrical equipment, trimming away vegetation within the electrical equipment’s surrounding environment as required by law,” the court filing said.
On August 26th, Fox Law Firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of 56 survivors and victims of the McKinney Fire. The plaintiffs included the family of Kathy Shoopman, a long-time fire lookout who perished in the fire. Shoopman died in her home and was not on duty.
“She had a home there that she’d stayed in for 50 years, and when she was asked to evacuate that first Friday night, she said she’d be more comfortable staying,” Klamath National Forest Supervisor Rachel Smith said during a firefighter briefing.
The lawsuit against the utility company includes claims for wrongful death, negligence, trespassing, and other violations.
Five media outlets are being investigated by the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office in relation to their behavior during the McKinney Fire. The outlets facing scrutiny include ABC News, KRCR News Channel 7, CBS News, KDRV News Channel 12, and the Los Angeles Times. Allegations arose in early August 2022 and included bringing unauthorized persons into evacuation zones, trespassing on private property, and disturbing areas where homes were destroyed as authorities searched for human remains. Additionally, complaints are being examined regarding media personnel opening the doors of burnt vehicles for the purpose of taking photos and videos.