Huge swaths of America’s West Coast are ablaze or in cinders as more than 100 wildfires raged largely uncontrolled late Friday from California to Washington state and beyond, incinerating entire towns and killing at least 24 people.
More than 500,000 people in Oregon — more than 10% of its population — remained under some level of evacuation protocol as fires in the state destroyed thousands of homes and burned hundreds of thousands of hectares. The Oregon Convention Center in Portland has been transformed into a shelter for evacuees. Many evacuees have simply taken refuge in their cars in large parking lots.
“We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
In southern Oregon, an apocalyptic scene of burned residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for kilometers along a highway – a scene mirrored in parts of California, where the governor gave a blunt assessment.
“This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it's happening. This is the perfect storm," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “What we're experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.” More than 68,000 people are under evacuation orders in California.
Thick smoke and haze blanketed much of the region, triggering health warnings and prompting officials to urge residents to remain indoors.
In Oregon’s most populated region, helicopters dropped water and fire retardant on two fires that threatened to merge.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday dozens of people are missing in Jackson and Marion counties.
In California, the largest fire in the state’s history is burning in the Mendocino National Forest, about 190 kilometers northwest of Sacramento.
"This is not an act of God," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways." He said the land burned in Washington in the last five days made it the state’s second-worst fire season.
In addition to beating back the wildfires, authorities are now challenged with fighting misinformation on social media sites that the fires were ignited by arsonists from far right and far left groups. The FBI said Friday it has investigated some claims and so far has found them to be untrue.
Meanwhile, meteorologists said California’s wildfires are responsible for the orange glow in the sky that people across the United Kingdom woke up to on Friday.
Meteorologist Simon Lee told The Telegraph, “Meteorologically speaking, in the last few days we have seen a very strong and straight, west-east, jet stream, flowing across the North Atlantic from North America to Europe, which has undoubtedly helped rapidly and coherently transport the aerosols from North America.”