Flash flooding from heavy rains across part of the McKinney Fire scorch scar in northern California recently resulted in massive fish kills in tributaries of the Klamath River, the Karuk tribe said in a statement last week.
Why is this important: Massive fish kills are the latest sign of the devastation of the McKinney fire. It has burned more than 60,000 acres after starting July 29, becoming California’s largest fire this season. It also killed at least four people, including firefighters and civilians, and destroyed several structures in several communities.
- The wildfire is currently 40% contained and more than 3,200 firefighters have been assigned to stop its spread, according to InciWeban interagency website that tracks wildfires.
What they say : “Very large numbers of fish, of all species, are observed around Happy Camp, [California]along the main course of the Klamath River,” the Karuk tribe said.
How it works: It takes less rainfall to cause flash flooding in areas scorched by wildfires.
- When precipitation rushes downward through a burn scar, it can cause major erosion and pick up a large amount of debris including ash, sand, dirt, rocks, and burnt vegetation.
- If this debris flow spills into streams or rivers, it can negatively alter water temperature and quality and disrupt its pH level.
- This can affect fish and many other aquatic species sensitive to water pollution, particularly if the contaminants reduce or deplete the level of dissolved oxygen in the water, according to the california department of fish and wildlife.
Parts of the burn scar of the McKinney Fire received one to three inches of rain last Tuesday, according to InciWeb.
- The Karuk tribe said preliminary observations suggest the fish likely died from debris flows caused by this rain event rushing into tributaries of the Klamath River.
- The thousands of dead fish then probably floated downstream where they congregated near Happy Camp and other communities along the main stream of the Klamath River.
- The full extent of the mortality is currently unknown, as is whether the event will affect the fall migration of chinook salmon, Karuk Tribe said.
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