Sacramento, California: Wildfires that have already destroyed at least half a dozen small towns in the northwestern United States raged largely uncontrolled on Friday as California`s governor called the fire season evidence of a climate emergency.
As of Friday afternoon about 500,000 people in Oregon were on notice to be ready to flee advancing flames, and crews picked through the smoldering rubble of destroyed homes in search of fatalities.
“This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it`s happening. This is the perfect storm,” California Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters from a charred mountainside near Oroville, California.
In southern Oregon, an apocalyptic scene of burned residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for miles along Highway 99 south of Medford through Phoenix and Talent, one of the most devastated areas.
Beatriz Gomez Bolanos, 41, told her four children to close their eyes as fires burned on both sides of their car as they made their escape from the Bear Creek Mobile Home south of Medford as sparks began to rain down on their house.
“Everything is gone. We have to start again from nothing, but we are alive,” said Gomez Bolanos.
Molalla, a community about 25 miles (40 km) south of downtown Portland, was an ash-covered ghost town after its more than 9,000 residents were told to evacuate, with only 30 refusing to leave, the city`s fire department said.
The logging town was on the front line of a vast evacuation zone stretching north to within three miles (4.8 km) of downtown Portland. The sheriff in suburban Clackamas County set a 10 p.m. PDT (0500 on Saturday GMT) curfew to deter “possible increased criminal activity.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown told a news conference that 40,000 people were under mandatory evacuation alerts. Some 500,000 residents were under evacuation advisories of either red “GO!” warnings to leave homes immediately, yellow “BE SET” warnings to leave at a moment`s notice, or green “BE READY” alerts, she said
WEATHER MAY AID FIREFIGHTERS
Forecasts for a drop in winds, higher moisture levels and rain were expected to help firefighters in towns like Molalla, at the mercy of wind strength and direction after two of Oregon`s largest wildfires merged into one.
The death toll from the siege of West Coast fires that began in August jumped to 24 after seven people were reported killed in a fire burning in mountains around 85 miles (137 km) north of Sacramento, California.
Oregon`s governor said dozens of people were reported missing after fires in Oregon`s Jackson, Marion and Lane counties.
More than 68,000 people were under evacuation orders in California where the largest fire in state history has burned over 740,000 acres (299,470 hectares) in the Mendocino National Forest around 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Sacramento.
“We had four hours to pack up our pets and a few medications and things like that,” said retiree John Maylone from an evacuation center in Fresno, California, after he was forced to leave three of his 30 cats as he fled the massive Creek Fire.
Paradise, a town blasted by California`s deadliest wildfire in 2018, had the world`s worst air quality index reading at 592, according to the PurpleAir monitoring site, as two of the state`s largest blazes burned on either side of it.
Police opened an arson investigation into the fire that destroyed much of Phoenix and Talent in Oregon.
At least four Oregon police departments warned of “fake” online messages appearing to be from law enforcement that blamed left-wing anti-fascists and right-wing Proud Boy activists for starting the fires.