More than 500,000 people in Oregon — more than 10% of its population — were under some level of evacuation protocol Friday as more than 100 wildfires continued to sweep across the U.S. West Coast, having killed at least 16 people.
Oregon fires destroyed thousands of homes and burned 900,000 acres. Several towns were destroyed in Oregon and one in Washington state.
Police have opened an arson investigation into the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland, Oregon, near the border with California, said Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara. The fire raced north and destroyed an estimated 600 homes in the towns just north of Ashland.
Two of Oregon’s largest fires are expected to merge southeast of Oregon’s largest city, Portland. Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz Temple said she discussed the possibility of evacuating some parts of the Portland metro area with local authorities. She said everything would depend on the force and direction of wind.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said at a news conference.
Oregon officials have not disclosed a precise death toll but at least four deaths have been reported.
In California, wildfires continued to sweep across the state on Thursday, killing at least 12 people, destroying hundreds of homes and burning more than a million hectares, significantly more than what was burned last year.
The state's North Complex fire tore through the Sierra Nevada earlier this week but has been advancing slower since winds shifted and eased. Smoke from the fire provided shade that lowered the temperature, helping the firefighters to make progress, fire authorities said, but keeping firefighting helicopters on the ground.
The lightning-caused fire has killed at least 10 people, including a 16-year-old boy, Josiah Williams, his mother confirmed to a Sacramento TV station. Four people have been hospitalized with critical burns, and 16 more have been reported missing, according to local authorities.
The fire has also damaged or destroyed an estimated 2,000 homes in the area. Authorities said 20,000 people in Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties were under evacuation orders or warnings.
Many homes in the Butte County hamlet of Berry Creek, with a population of 525, were incinerated.
The fire, which has been burning near the small Northern California city of Oroville for weeks, was 50% contained until wind gusts up to 72 kph on Tuesday and Wednesday caused the fire to expand sixfold.