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California's McKinney fire has taken 4 lives including that of a fire lookout

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The McKinney fire in northern California has now taken four lives, including that of 74-year-old Kathy Shoopman. She was a fire lookout in the Klamath National Forest who was on the job when the wildfire overran the community of Klamath River.

RACHEL SMITH: She had a voice that was like the Klamath River gravel. It sounded as if she'd been talking for a thousand years. But in person, she had the loveliest, sweetest voice. Many of our fire personnel found her voice to be a very comforting voice to listen to.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Forest supervisor Rachel Smith says Shoopman knew her area like the back of her hand.

SMITH: She would spend the day constantly looking for smoke, staying in contact with both our home unit dispatch here in Yreka, Calif., and then also with the firefighters on the ground.

FADEL: Now, fire lookouts don't just watch for new wildfires. They also help coordinate the firefighting.

SMITH: A very experienced lookout really increases our ability to catch a fire fast. And Kathy was one of those lookouts.

MARTINEZ: Shoopman started her watch in the early 1970s. She became known for her strong sense of duty. And Smith says she stayed even after her supervisor and sheriff's deputies advised her to leave.

SMITH: Kathy lived in that same home in that community for almost 50 years.

FADEL: Most of Shoopman's community is now gone. But Smith says her legacy endures.

SMITH: Kathy's memory will flow on like the Klamath River.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 9, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story said the McKinney fire in northern California had taken five lives. The death toll currently stands at four.

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