California, Oregon, Washington fires Devastate region. At least 15 dead
Oregon, Washington, California blazes put firefighter resources at premium, wipes out southern Oregon towns, kills at least 15
From wire reports
Facing a historic year of wildfire destruction across the West Coast, the national emergency systems that rely on state-to-state assistance have been buckling under the strain. That has left emergency responders struggling to keep pace with fires that have destroyed entire towns and led to at least 15 deaths.
“I don’t know that we have any fires where we can say we have got enough resources to do what we need to do,” Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said.
Thursday, fires continued to rage in southern Oregon, where hundreds of homes have been razed, as well as east of Salem, where two bodies have been found, and along the state’s coast.
By Thursday evening, the number of people evacuated statewide because of fires had climbed to an es-
A man walks through the fire-ravaged Coleman Creek Estates mobile home park in Phoenix, Oregon., on Wednesday. The Almeda fire that burned through the towns of Phoenix and Talent in southern Oregon has destroyed approximately 600 homes. SCOTT STODDARD — GRANTS PASS DAILY COURIER VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dora Negrete is consoled by son Hector Rocha after seeing their destroyed mobile home at the Talent Mobile Estates on Thursday in Talent, Oregon. The fire is among several on the West Coast burning out of control. PAULA BRONSTEIN — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
timated 500,000, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management reported. That’s more than 10% of the state’s 4.2 million population.
In California, firefighters continued to battle the August Complex burning in the Mendocino National Forest that is now the largest fire in the state’s history.
In Washington, hundreds of homes and other structures were at risk. Hilary Franz, the state’s commissioner of public lands, said the state was searching for help from elsewhere in the country.
“California, Oregon, Washington, we are all in the same soup of cataclysmic fire,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said.
The dead so far include 10 people who died in a fast-moving fire in California’s Butte County, north of Sacramento; a 1-year-old boy who was killed in the Cold Springs fire in northern Washington; two people who were discovered in a vehicle east of Salem, Oregon and two people who died in the Almeda fire in southern Oregon.
An additional 16 people are missing in Butte County.
Three law enforcement agencies in Oregon, including the Ashland Police Department and the State Police, said they had opened an arson investigation for the Almeda fire, which destroyed roughly 600 homes and was still raging out of control Thursday.
Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon said her office put in a request to the Defense Department for a battalion of active-duty military trained in firefighting. Phelps said the state also would be seeking help from other states for search-and-rescue crews. So many state aid requests have gone to the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group, which helps direct wildfire resources, that the group has been left to decide which ones get priority. Thursday morning, there were more than 300 requests for support that could not be fulfilled.
Devastation in Oregon
Stunned residents of the small Oregon town of Phoenix walked through a scene of devastation after one of the state’s many wildfires wiped out much of their community, including a mobile home park, houses and businesses.
But even as residents in southern Oregon were assessing their losses, other wildfires in the northwestern part of the state were growing, with more people told to flee for their lives.
A fire approaching Molalla triggered a mandatory evacuation order for the community of about 9,000 30 miles south of Portland. A women’s prison less than a mile from Interstate 5 in Portland’s southern suburbs was being evacuated “out of an abundance of caution,” the Oregon Department of Corrections said.
Some firefighters in Clackamas County, which includes Molalla, had been told to disengage because of dangerous fire activity as two large fires in the area were believed to be merging, according to the state fire marshal’s office.
After spending the night in their cars in a Home Depot parking lot on the outskirts of Phoenix, a stream of people walked into what was left of the town that hugs Interstate 5. They hauled wagons and carried backpacks and bags to salvage whatever they could.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that 600 homes were burned by the fire that started in Ashland and tore through Phoenix, the Mail Tribune of Medford, Oregon, reported.
California’s 29 fires
The staggering scale of California’s wildfires in 2020 continues to grow.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Thursday wildfires have scorched nearly 4,844 square miles.
Six of the top 20 largest fires in state history have occurred this year as well.
California is now almost entirely free of Red Flag warnings for critical fire weather, but 14,000 firefighters remain on the lines of 29 major wildfires.
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