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Half a million people evacuated as US wildfires rage

11 Sep 2020

fire

Half a million people have been evacuated from their homes in Oregon as unprecedented wildfires rage along the US west coast.

"Firefighters are prioritising life safety as they battle a record 900,000 acres of wildfires across Oregon," a statement said.

At least nine people have been killed as wildfires burn in California, Oregon and Washington, with officials warning that the death toll could rise in coming days.

The August Complex Fire became the biggest recorded blaze in Californian history yesterday, after multiple fires in the state's northwest combined amid high temperatures and winds to rip through 470,000 acres of dry vegetation.

In neighbouring Oregon, where at least five towns have been substantially damaged and up to 40,000 people evacuated, governor Kate Brown said twice the state's annual average had burned in just the past 72 hours.

"We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state," she told a press conference.

"We know that there are fire related fatalities. And as soon as we are able to provide confirmed information, we will do so."

Local Oregon officials have confirmed two deaths in the Santiam Canyon region, 95 kilometres south of Portland, and another was recorded in the Ashland area, near the California border.

An investigation has been opened into the suspicious origins of the fire that began in the town of Ashland.

It destroyed hundreds of homes in nearby communities, Ashland's police chief said.

All three west coast states have been scrambling to contain rapidly spreading wildfires since the weekend due to unprecedented heatwaves followed by intense, dry winds.

Among those killed in the past day was a one-year-old boy who perished while his parents suffered severe burns as they attempted to flee an inferno 290km east of Seattle.

"This child's family and community will never be the same," said Washington governor Jay Inslee, in a statement on his state's first fire death of 2020.

"And neither will countless others who are reeling from the utter devastation these wildfires are leaving in their wake."

In Butte County, California, where three people have been killed, firefighters battled the flames through the night, after a day of apocalyptic orange skies over the Golden State. Another dozen people were reportedly unaccounted for in the area.

One unidentified person was killed in far northern California, near the remote rural community of Happy Camp, a Cal Fire spokeswoman told AFP.

Tina Rose, 29, fled her home in central California after witnessing the mountain in front of it "glowing red" from looming wildfires.

"We were packing everything and you can hear the propane tanks just exploding... and when we heard the second one we were just like 'we need to go in case it does move faster', because you never know," she told AFP.

"It is something we never want to experience again," she added, speaking from her brother-in-law's crowded home near Fresno.

In the San Francisco area, Wednesday's deep orange sky caused by wildfire smoke gave way to a wintry gray, but cars were still forced to drive with lights on in the gloom.

Heavily polluted air meant schools and daycare facilities were no longer letting children play outside, while seniors and vulnerable individuals were encouraged to stay inside.

But the past days' strong, dry winds eased off across much of the state, with severe weather warnings lifted for most of California. Humidity is expected to rise as temperatures cool through to next week, providing some relief, Cal Fire said.

Much of the smoke has blown down from the north, where the Bear Fire exploded at an unprecedented speed this week, combining with older blazes to threaten the town of Oroville.

Source: RTE