Search and rescue teams with dogs have been deployed across the blackened ruins of several southern Oregon towns as wildfires continue to ravage the US West Coast and officials warn of mass casualties.
- Ten people have died in Oregon, 22 in California and one person was killed in Washington
- Authorities expect the number of fatalities to rise as search, rescue and recovery operations continue
- Local leaders blame climate change for the fires, but Donald Trump blames forest management
The flames have destroyed whole neighbourhoods and driven tens of thousands of people from their homes while shrouding the region in smoke.
At least 33 people have been confirmed dead in fires along the West Coast during the past week — 10 people in Oregon, 22 in California and one in Washington state.
The crisis has come amid the coronavirus outbreak, the economic downturn and nationwide racial unrest that has led to protests in Oregon’s capital, Portland, for more than 100 days.
“What’s next?” asked Danielle Oliver, who had to flee her home outside Portland.
“You have the protests, coronavirus pandemic, now the wildfires. What else can go wrong?”
Late on Saturday (local time), the Jackson County Sheriff’s office said that four people had died in one wildfire.
Authorities earlier this week said as many as 50 people could be missing due to that fire, but the number of people unaccounted for is now down to one.
‘No power, debris everywhere, smoke, can’t breathe’
Among the people killed was Millicent Catarancuic, who was found near her car at her two-hectare property in Berry Creek, California.
At one point she was ready to evacuate with her dogs and cats in the car.
But she changed her mind as the winds seemed to calm and the flames stayed away.
Then the fire changed direction, rushing onto the property too quickly for her to leave. She died, along with her animals.
“I feel like, maybe when they passed, they had an army of cats and dogs with her to help her through it,” said her daughter, Holly Catarancuic.
George Coble lost everything just outside Mill City, Oregon — his fence-building business, five houses in the compound where his family lived and a collection of vintage cars, including a 1967 Mustang.
“We’ll just keep working and keep your head up and thank God everybody got out,” Mr Coble said.
In a town nearby, Erik Tucker spent the day coated in ash and smudged with charcoal, hauling buckets of water through what remained of his neighbourhood to douse hot spots.
“No power, debris everywhere, smoke, can’t breathe,” he said, the air thick with ash.
Once-in-a-generation fires caused by global warming, leaders say
The Democratic Governors of all three states have said the fires are a consequence of global warming.
“We absolutely must act now to avoid a future defined by an unending barrage of tragedies like the one American families are enduring across the West today,” said Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The dry, windy conditions that fed the flames in Oregon were probably a once-in-a-generation event, said Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University in McMinnville.
The warmer world can increase the likelihood of extreme events and contribute to their severity, he said.
On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the fires should end all debate about the impact of climate change.
Mr Newsom appeared to direct at least some of his remarks at US President Donald Trump.
Mr Trump was scheduled to travel to California and meet with federal and state officials on Monday.
He has said that western governors bear some of the blame for intense fire seasons in recent years, as opposed to warming temperatures, and has accused them of poor forest management.
There was some good news on Saturday.
The same smoke that painted California skies orange also helped crews corral the state’s deadliest blaze this year by blocking the sun, reducing temperatures and raising humidity.
Smoke created cooler conditions in Oregon as well.
But it was also blamed for creating the dirtiest air in at least 35 years.