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Scores of wildfires scorch US West Coast, killing at least eight

Reuters/Oregon, United States
Filed on September 10, 2020
Wildfires, us, west, coast


Winds of up to 50 miles per hour sent flames racing across a widespread area within hours.

Dozens of extreme wind-driven wildfires swept across US†West Coast states on Thursday, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least eight people, state and local authorities said.

In the past 48 hours, four people died from fires in California, while three were killed in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died in Washington state, police reported. Thousands faced evacuation orders in the three states.

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

The blazes tore through at least five communities up and down Oregon's Cascade mountain range and areas of coastal forest normally spared from wildfires fuelled by August and September heat waves.

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

"STAY OUT OF THE DETROIT AND IDANHA AREAS. WE DO NOT HAVE THE RESOURCES TO RESCUE YOU IF YOU GET STUCK!!!," the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District said on its last Facebook post before firefighters led an evacuation caravan through mountain roads.

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, west of Detroit, about 50 miles (80 km) south of Portland, the Marion County Sheriff's Office said.

Winds of up to 50 miles per hour sent flames racing across a widespread area within hours, engulfing hundreds of homes as firefighters focused on evacuating residents rather than controlling the fires.

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.

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

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

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 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.

In California, officials said some 64,000 people were under evacuation orders while crews battled 29 major fires across portions of the most populous US state.

About a third of those evacuees were displaced in Butte County alone, north of the capital Sacramento, where the North Complex wildfire has scorched more than 247,000 acres and destroyed over 2,000 homes and structures.

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.

Another person died in Siskiyou County in Northern California, state fire authority Cal Fire reported, providing no further details.

Wildfires have now burned over 3.1 million acres in California in 2020, marking a record for any year, with six of the top 20 largest wildfires in state history occurring in 2020.

In Washington, a man and a woman were in critical condition with burns after their 1-year-old son died as they tried to escape the state's largest wildfire burning in mountains about 100 miles northwest of Spokane, the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

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