2 killed in Northern California wildfires: Sheriff

"To look at your faces, it almost brings me to tears," sheriff tells community.

September 5, 2022, 3:02 PM

A wildfire raging in Northern California took a tragic turn as two bodies were recovered after the blaze swept into a small town, damaging or destroying about 100 structures, authorities said.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue broke the grim news at a community meeting Sunday night, telling residents that the Mill Fire, which has burned more than 4,200 acres near the town of Weed, had claimed two lives.

"It's one thing to come up here and tell you things, but to look at your faces ... it almost brings me to tears," LaRue said before reporting that two people had been killed and asking for a moment of silence.

The sheriff's office released a statement early Monday reporting that the two deceased individuals were women, ages 66 and 73. The sheriff's office said the remains were located on Friday by first responders within the city limits of Weed.

PHOTO: Crime scene tape barricades the area near burned cars in the aftermath of the Mill Fire in Weed, California, Sept. 3, 2022.
Crime scene tape barricades the area near burned cars in the aftermath of the Mill Fire in Weed, California, Sept. 3, 2022.
Fred Greaves/Reuters

The sheriff office did not provide any further details on the deaths.

The news came as firefighters appeared to be getting a handle Sunday on the Mill Fire while dealing with new challenges being caused by the Mountain Fire, which is also burning in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border.

PHOTO: A plane drops fire retardant over the Mill Fire on the outskirts of Weed, Calif., Sept. 2, 2022, in this still image obtained from a video.
A plane drops fire retardant over the Mill Fire on the outskirts of Weed, Calif., Sept. 2, 2022, in this still image obtained from a video.
Michael Gaio via Reuters

The Mountain Fire, which is burning in a more remote rural area of Siskiyou County, has grown from 6,451 acres Sunday morning to 10,338 acres by Monday morning, according to Cal Fire. The Mountain Fire, which was only 10% contained Monday, forced the evacuations of more than 300 people and is threatening about 690 structures, officials said.

Winds on the ridges of the Mountain Fire were of particular concern for firefighters, who feared they could spread burning embers and ignite spot fires, according to Cal Fire's update Sunday on the blaze.

Firefighters are battling the dueling fires amid triple-digit heat and record dry weather, making it more difficult for firefighters to battle the fires.

"The fuels are stressed with the high temperatures and dryness, which is causing difficulties to firefighters at scene," Cal Fire said at a news conference Monday.

PHOTO: The Mountain Fire burns near the town of Gazelle, California, Sept. 2, 2022.
The Mountain Fire burns near the town of Gazelle, California, Sept. 2, 2022.
Fred Greaves/Reuters

The Mill Fire was 40% contained Monday morning after burning 4,263 acres since igniting on Friday, according to Cal Fire officials. The latest damage assessment released by Cal Fire said the Mill Fire had destroyed 88 single structures and damaged 11 others.

Cal Fire officials said firefighters will remain focused on defending structures and expanding containment lines around the two blazes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in Siskiyou County to support the response to the fires.

The mayor of Weed, meanwhile, reported new details on the Mill Fire, which ravaged her town of more than 2,600 people, injuring several people as they fled the flames and damaging or destroying at least 132 structures, including many homes.

Mayor Kim Greene told ABC News the Mill Fire started Friday in an old warehouse at the town's lumber mill, the Roseburg Forest Products, which sits near a park and a cluster of homes she said were nearly all destroyed.

"My co-worker's husband ran in and said, 'There's a fire,'" Greene recalled. "By the time we go out the front door to see, [there] was just a big puff of black smoke. You could hear the small explosions."

PHOTO: Dave Rodgers surveys his home, destroyed by the Mill Fire, Sept. 3, 2022, in Weed, Calif.
Dave Rodgers surveys his home, destroyed by the Mill Fire, Sept. 3, 2022, in Weed, Calif.
Noah Berger/AP

Fanned by 30 mph winds, Greene said the blaze spread quickly, jumped a set of train tracks and swept into a neighborhood.

Green said many people had only minutes to escape. An ABC News crew observed several walkers and wheelchairs abandoned along streets as people fled for their lives. Numerous vehicles sat charred in roadways and driveways of homes completely destroyed.

The Mill Fire, according to Cal Fire, caused more than 1,000 people to be evacuated.

Firefighters got a break from the high winds on Saturday, but high temperatures continue to be a challenge, Cal Fire officials said. The temperature in Redding, in Northern California, was expected to be 111 degrees on Monday.

Capt. Robert Foxworthy of Cal Fire said the high temperatures are forcing firefighters to take precautions to protect themselves physically.

"It makes it a little bit tougher physically on those firefighters that are working on the ground," Foxworthy told ABC News. "You have them making sure they are hydrating and making sure they are getting good rest cycles, making sure those folks are getting good meals and nutrition so when they do go and work on these fires in those conditions, they are the best they can be to deal with those conditions."

ABC News' Alex Presha and Alyssa Pone contributed to this report.

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