Heavy rain that flooded an area burned by California’s largest wildfire this year is being blamed for a major fish kill in the Klamath River. Karuk Biologists say thousands of walleye, salmon and trout found floating belly-up up the river Friday were killed by a plume of debris that washed into the Klamath after three inches of rain fell on areas burned by the McKinney fire on Tuesday. . The tribe says the storm blew scorched earth, rocks and felled timber into the river.
In a press advisory, the tribe reported “a very large number” of dead fish near Camp Happy, California, along the main Klamath River. Dead fish were found more than 20 miles from the source of the debris flow. Karuk is working with state and federal agencies and the Yurok tribe to enter the area and determine the extent of the damage. Officials do not yet know if the fish kill will affect the fall migration of Chinook salmon, which has just begun in the Klamath.
Kenneth Brink, a fisherman and member of the Karuk tribe, told him New York Times that the river had the consistency of “chocolate milk”. Brink witnessed the killing first hand. “She [smelled] scoundrel,” said Brink. “If he was in that river, he died.”
The Karuk and Yurok tribes have worked for years to protect the Klamath salmon, which are prized by the tribes but decimated by low water flows, dams and a fish-killing parasite. The tribes helped negotiate the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, scheduled for next year, and in 2021, successfully petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list the Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act.
Read further: Meet the hunters and fishermen fighting to save the Klamath River Basin
The McKinney Fire started July 29 in the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County near the Oregon state line and quickly expanded to 60,000 acres. It has claimed the lives of four people, forced thousands from their homes and destroyed more than 100 structures. The heat and smoke from the fire generated a massive pyrocumulonimbus, which NASA refers to as the “fire-breathing cloud dragon.” Storm clouds may bring more torrential rain and lightning to the area. As of August 9, the fire is 55 percent contained. Its cause is under investigation.