Oregon fire broke out as officials feared ‘mass fatal incident’
The lighter winds and rising humidity overnight helped efforts to tackle the massive Oregon fire that took lives, destroyed property and burned a million acres.
But state emergency management director Andrew Phelps said officials were “preparing for a mass fatal incident based on what we know and the amount of structure that was lost.”
Governor Kate Brown said dozens of people are still missing and tens of thousands have been forced to leave their homes.
State officials have not released the exact death toll, but at least eight have been reported. County Sheriff Marion Joe Kast said on Friday night that searchers had found two victims of the Beachie Creek fire near Salem. A one-year-old boy was killed in a bushfire in Washington state as the death toll across the entire west coast rose to more than 20 years old.
In Oregon, hundreds of firefighters are fighting two massive flames that are at risk of merging near the most populated area of the state, including the suburbs of Portland.
Brown corrected a statement from the state’s Office of Emergency Management that half a million people had been ordered to evacuate. More than 40,000 people have been evacuated and around 500,000 have been asked to leave their homes or prepare to do so, she said. Brown added missing scores in Jackson and Marion counties.
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said a 41-year-old man was arrested on two counts of arson, related to a fire that occurred Tuesday in the Phoenix area. The fire burned down hundreds of homes and had a burning point in Ashland near where a man was found dead. Authorities said the man denied the fire.
Sickler said authorities are working to locate the missing people.
“I think we’re somewhere in the neighborhood, you know, about 50 individuals, you know, we’re trying to locate maybe a little less,” he said. “It will certainly be a process.”
After days of strong winds, hot weather and low humidity, the improved weather helped the fire fighting work.
“Yesterday was a bit of a wind for us,” said Stefan Myers, of the Oregon fire information team.
Nearly 500 employees are working on fires near Portland, which are only a few miles apart but with the rugged terrain limited efforts to control the fire, Myers said. If the flames combine, they can generate enough heat to send clumps of embers thousands of feet into the air, potentially igniting other areas.
Authorities say more than 1,500 square miles have been burned in Oregon in recent days, nearly double the amount in a typical year, on an area larger than Rhode Island.
In California, at least 19 people died amid record wildfires, even as the flight crew reported some progress.
A wildfire in Butte County in northern California has burned more than 250,000 acres, leaving at least 10 people dead. Sheriff’s officials confirmed seven more people died from the North Complex fire on Thursday and said 16 people are still missing.
The state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention announced that “the 2020 fire season has hit a record, not only with a total burned area of just over 3 million acres, but 6 out of 20 major forest fires. most in California history. This year.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the climate change debate is “over”.
“Just go to California,” he told reporters on the flames of the mountainside. “See it with your own eyes.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee noted that in just the past 5 days his state has experienced its second worst fire season, after 2015. He called the fire “climate fire”, rather than Forest fires.
“This is not an act of God,” Inslee said. “This happened because we have changed the climate.”
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