Interview: ‘It has been a treacherous year, but we are here’: McKinney Fire survivor on recovery in Klamath River
July 29 marked one year since the McKinney Fire tore through the small town of Klamath River in Siskiyou County.
The fire destroyed nearly 200 homes and other buildings in the town and killed four people — all were over the age of 70, and one was a longtime fire lookout for the U.S. Forest Service.
Residents gathered on the anniversary to commemorate. Sue Story, McKinney Fire survivor, put together the event.
The day before, NSPR’s Jamie Jiang spoke with her about throwing a party on the anniversary of the tragedy.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
On the year mark of the McKinney Fire
It is the “F you, fire” party because everybody here has suffered enough. Instead of mourning the first anniversary of the fire on July 29, we're going to say F you, fire. We have been standing strong and are still strong against you as a community. We're going to stay together.
On Klamath River’s Taco Tuesday tradition
"There’s still people that are homeless in Yreka, [who] literally live along the hillsides because of this fire. People who got burned out in the fire, who have no place else to go."Sue Story — McKinney Fire survivor
We're making tacos. One of the biggest things that most of our community members out here miss is Taco Tuesday. Because our community hall burnt down, we have yet to be able to have Taco Tuesdays.
Taco Tuesdays were such a big event; all the money went to the fire department. Some nights, we'd make $600 or $700 selling tacos. The hall was full of people, and the line was out the door. That's really what this community is missing right now, our gatherings, our regular get-togethers.
On people still being unhoused after the fire
There's still people that are homeless in Yreka, [who] literally live along the hillsides because of this fire. People who got burned out in the fire, who have no place else to go.
We've got a lot of homeless people right now, and it's something that we're really focusing on. The county has had a few trailers to give out for people to live in. And that's been helpful, but we still have like I can think of right off the top of my head about five completely homeless people.
When we go to town, we try to go and find them and go see them and take them some food and money. Our community has come together to even just collect money for some of our homeless people.
On Klamath River
We were 150 [population before the fire], and I'm pretty sure we're well under 100. The people of Klamath River are very community-oriented and very strong. And that's what everybody misses the most is our ability to gather in a place together because we all love each other.
It’s heartbreaking to see how everybody has spread out. People have moved to Oregon or Yreka. The fact that people are coming back tells you something about the people of Klamath River.
On recovery and the anniversary
It has been a very emotional year for everybody. You've just been through so much trauma. This event was going to be a memorial for the four people who died in the fire. They have always been at the front of everybody's mind. We decided to postpone that for the dedication of the pavilion.
The pavilion will be dedicated to them. Instead, tomorrow will be a day for us to rise above and say we are strong. We're going to get through this fire as a community.
I can't wait to see my friends and neighbors I haven't seen for a long time because it's heartbreaking. You want to reconnect with your people, hug them, and say, yeah, it has been a treacherous year, but we are here.