All four people who died in the McKinney Fire when it exploded last month through the Klamath National Forest, becoming California’s largest and deadliest wildfire of the year, have now been identified by rapid DNA and dental analysis, the Siskiyou County sheriff announced Friday.
Charles Kays, 79, Judith Kays, 82, John Cogan, 76, and Kathleen Shoopman, 73, had all lived in the Klamath River community near Yreka — a quiet area populated by campgrounds and hiking trails, and a popular destination for white-water rafters and kayakers.
Utilizing Rapid DNA & dental analysis, the four confirmed fatalities related to the #MckinneyFire have been positively identified.
Kathleen Shoopman (73) of Klamath River.
Charles Kays (79) of Klamath River.
Judith Kays (82) of Klamath River.
John Cogan (76) of Klamath River. pic.twitter.com/aRF6ybPpzu
— Siskiyou County Sheriff (@SiskiyouSheriff) August 20, 2022
The McKinney Fir erupted suddenly last month when dry thunderstorms sent the blaze surging into the Klamath River community, leaving little time for residents to evacuate their homes before the flames engulfed nearly 200 structures. The blaze has stalled this week at 60,000 acres with 95% containment.
Shoopman, who for decades served as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout, died after choosing to remain at her home of 50 years even after receiving warnings, Klamath National Forest officials said earlier this month when they first identified her.
Authorities said at the time that two other victims burned to death together in a car after it became trapped in an embankment on their driveway a few feet in front of the front gate to their home.
Identifying information released by authorities Friday did not confirm whether Charles and Judith Kays, a married couple who lived by the Klamath River, were the two people who perished at the property on Doggett Creek Road.
The cause of the McKinney Fire is still under investigation. Fire crews have gotten the blaze under control over the past few weeks after its supercharged growth, fueled by dry, gusty weather, made it deadlier in a single day than all of California’s wildfires last year combined.
The fire’s devastation has also raised questions about the timeliness of state and regional fire agencies’ alert systems and evacuation warnings. Residents told this news organization earlier in the month that they were not notified about the advancing flames until they observed the danger with their own eyes.
Now, a scenic enclave of the Klamath River — hailed by indigenous populations as a sacred resource of fish and water — has been marred by death and destruction.
In a Facebook post announcing Shoopman’s death, a division of the U.S. Forest Service earlier this month extended its condolences to the community: “We share this sorrow with each and every one of you.”
Staff writer Jakob Rodgers contributed to this report.