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A wildfire burning in a remote area just south of the Oregon border appears to have killed tens of thousands of Klamath River fish, the Karuk tribe said Saturday.
The tribe said in a statement that the dead fish of all species were found Friday near Happy Camp, Calif., along the main Klamath River.
Tribal fisheries biologists believe a flash flood caused by heavy rains over the scorched area caused a huge debris flow that entered the river at or near Humbug Creek and McKinney Creek, said Craig Tucker, a tribal spokesperson.
Debris entering the river caused oxygen levels in the Klamath River to drop to zero on Wednesday and Thursday nights, according to readings from tribal monitors at a nearby water quality station.
A photo of the Karuk taken about 32 kilometers downstream of the flash flood in the Seiad Creek tributary showed several dozen dead fish belly-up amid sticks and other debris in thick brown water along the river bank.
The extent of the damage is still unclear, but the tribe said on Saturday evening that it appears fish found dead 20 miles downstream were taken there after death and the fish kills did not not affect the entire river.
“We believe the impact is limited to 10 or 20 miles of river in this stretch and that the fish we see at Happy Camp and below are floating downriver from the ‘kill zone,'” the tribe said in a statement. updated statement, adding that he continues to monitor the situation.
The McKinney Fire, which has scorched more than 90 square miles (233 square kilometers) in the Klamath National Forest, this week wiped out the picturesque hamlet of Klamath River, home to about 200 people. The flames killed four people in the small community and reduced most homes and businesses to ashes.
Scientists said climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Across the American West, a 22-year-old mega-drought got so bad in 2021 that the region is now experiencing the driest period in at least 1,200 years.
When it started, the McKinney Fire only burned several hundred acres and firefighters thought they would get it under control quickly. But the storms came with fierce gusts that within hours had pushed it into an unstoppable conflagration.
The fire was 30% contained on Saturday.
The fish kill was a blow to the Karuk and Yurok tribes, who have been fighting for years to protect the fragile salmon populations of the Klamath River. Salmon is revered by the Karuk Tribe and the Yurok Tribe, the second largest Native American tribe in California.
The federally endangered fish species has suffered from low flows in the Klamath River in recent years and a deadly salmon parasite thrived in the warmer, slower waters last summer, killing fish in large number.
After years of negotiations, four dams on the lower river that impede salmon migration are set to be removed next year in what would be Europe’s biggest dam removal project. history of the United States in an effort to help fish recover.
Flaccus reported from Portland, Oregon.
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