At least seven killed as scores of wildfires burn on U.S West Coast


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© Reuters. Orange smoke blankets San Francisco, California

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By Carlos Barria and Adrees Latif

TALENT, Ore./EAGLE POINT, Ore. (Reuters) – Dozens of extreme wind-driven wildfires swept across U.S. West Coast states on Thursday, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least seven people, state and local authorities said.

In the past 48 hours, three people died from a lightning-sparked fire in northern California, while three were reported dead in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died in Washington state, police reported.

Oregon bore the brunt of nearly 100 major wildfires ripping across the western states, with around 3,000 firefighters battling over two dozen wildfires.

The blazes tore through at least five communities in Oregon’s Cascade mountain range as well as areas of coastal rainforest normally spared from wildfires.

East of Salem, Oregon, search and rescue teams entered destroyed communities like Detroit, where firefighters abandoned equipment and led residents on a dramatic mountain escape after military helicopters were unable to evacuate the town.

A 12-year-old boy was found dead with his dog inside a burned car and his grandmother was believed to be dead after flames engulfed an area near Lyons, Oregon, about 50 miles (80 km) south of Portland, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said.

A Reuters photographer saw small communities including Bear Lake Estates reduced to ashes as he drove south on Interstate 5 towards Ashland.

Some people counted their blessings after fleeing the Bear Creek trailer park, where nearly every home burned.

“Thank God we were at home,” said Julio Flores, a resident of the community who escaped with two children who would have been alone had his restaurant working hours not been cut due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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To the south, a fire was suspected of causing at least one death outside of Ashland, said Rich Tyler, spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown said the state was facing perhaps its greatest ever loss in lives from wildfires, with the communities of Blue River and Vida in Lane County and Phoenix and Talent in southern Oregon largely destroyed.

Climate scientists say global warming has contributed to greater extremes in wet and dry seasons across the U.S. West, causing vegetation to flourish then dry out, leaving more abundant, volatile fuel for fires.

Evacuations were occurring in areas scattered across all of Oregon, an area around the size of the United Kingdom, as fires burned in virtually every region.

In southern Oregon’s Jackson County, most of the city of Medford, with 82,000 residents, was told to evacuate or prepare to evacuate as fires burned around the city.

Residents in Shady Cove, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Medford, drove around trying to work out where the fires were and whether to evacuate homes, according to a Reuters photographer.

To the north, thick smoke reduced visibility to half a mile in Aurora and about three quarters of a mile in Salem. It was later expected to blow into the Portland metro area, the National Weather Service reported.

CALIFORNIA AND WASHINGTON FIRES

In California, officials said some 64,000 people were under evacuation orders on Wednesday while crews battled 28 major fires across portions of the most populous U.S. state.

About a third of those evacuees were displaced in Butte County alone, north of the capital Sacramento, where a wildfire has scorched more than 200,000 acres since it was ignited on Aug. 17. Almost half of that landscape was consumed since Tuesday, as a newly ferocious flank of that blaze dubbed the Bear Fire spread largely unchecked over some 97,000 acres (39,254.5 hectares).

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The remains of three victims were found in two separate locations of that fire zone, according to Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, bringing the total death toll from this summer’s devastating spate of California wildfires to at least 11.

The Bear Fire raged near the outskirts of Paradise, a town largely reduced to ash in 2018, with 85 lives lost, in a firestorm that still ranks as the deadliest in California history.

In eastern Washington, a man and a woman were in critical condition with burns after their one year old son died as they tried to escape the state’s largest wildfire, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.





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