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Beloved Klamath National Forest fire lookout among McKinney blaze victims

CBS SF Bay Area logo CBS SF Bay Area 8/8/2022 CBS San Francisco

KLAMATH RIVER -- A woman who manned lookout towers for decades in the Klamath National Forest is among the four victims of the fast-moving flames of the McKinney Fire, U.S. Forest Service officials announced Monday.

Forest Service officials said Kathy Shoopman died as the fire raced through the community of Klamath River and the nearby forests on July 29-30.

 "It is with great sadness that we must announce that the Klamath National Forest has lost one of its own," the forest service said in a news release. "Beloved long-time Klamath National Forest Lookout Kathy Shoopman has passed away. Kathy died in her home in the community of Klamath River as a result of the McKinney Fire."

Officials said Shoopman began her Forest Service career as a lookout at Baldy Mountain Lookout, west of Happy Camp, in 1974. Since then, she has staffed Lake Mountain Lookout, and most recently staffed Buckhorn Lookout, a post she has held since 1993.

"Kathy lived in the community of Klamath River for nearly five decades," officials said, "Kathy was also a talented artist, gardener, and a devout animal lover. We share this sorrow with each and every one of you and we know that individually, and as the supportive community that we are, we will find many ways to honor Kathy's life and service and keep her spirit in all of our lives."

There was an immediate outpouring of responses on Facebook to the announcement.

"I have listened to Kathy's voice on the radio every year for the 23 fire seasons I have worked on the Klamath, and cannot imagine the radio without her voice," Jen Bray posted. "My heart aches for her family and all the Klamath River communities. Sending mountains of love."

"RIP brave woman!" Chris Hughes posted. "The lives she helped save over her career with her selfless duties mean so much to all."

Forest Service spokesman Tom Stokesberry called her a legend in the lookout community. 

"They knew when they heard Kathy's voice on the phone that they were going to get a very accurate lat-long (latitude-longitude coordinate) to respond to a fire," Stokesberry said.  "And she did it in a way that gave them a very calm feeling, because she had a very soothing voice when she called it in. One of not only soothing, but confidence."  

The identity of the three other fire victims have not been released. 

As of  Monday morning, the McKinney fire -- one of several burning near the California-Oregon border -- stood at 60,379 acres with 40 percent containment and has destroyed nearly 90 homes.

Meanwhile, along the fire lines conditions were challenging on Sunday. Hot, dry, windy conditions tested the strenght of the lines.

"We passed the test yesterday," said incident fire behavior analyst Dennis Burns. "We had some very large islands (of unburned forest) within the interior and they off with a vengeance."

There remains a Red Flag Warning for the fire region on Monday for unstable conditions including thunder cells with lightning that move through during the morning hours.

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