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The National Weather Service said forest fires in Northern California caused unprecedented clouds of smoke.

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SHAVER LAKE, California – Forest fires, driven by high winds, raced through more than a dozen western states Thursday, claiming lives, burning hundreds of homes and scarring a stretch of land nearly the size of Connecticut.

At least seven people have died when more than 90 major fires burned in 13 western states.

“Firefighters in the western states see extreme fire behavior,” according to the National Fire Information Center. Three deaths were reported in California, three in Oregon, and one in Washington state.

In Northern California’s Butte County, Sheriff Kory Honea said at least three people had died, twelve were missing, and hundreds of homes were destroyed by the fire in the northern complex over San Francisco. Thousands more houses were threatened.

Several people were badly burned and 20,000 people were evacuated or warned in Plumas, Yuba and Butte counties. Thick smoke completely blocked sunlight in some large areas, and distant flames turned the sky orange in other areas.

“We have seen again and again how dangerous forest fires can be. … So please, please, please, be prepared, be aware of the situation, and heed the warnings, ”pleaded Sheriff Kory Honea of ​​Butte County.

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Forest fires in California and other western states get worse every year, but is climate change to blame? We explain.

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John Sykes, a 50-year-old resident, escaped with his car and some clothes, but watched the city burn from about a mile away.

“School is gone, the fire department is gone, the bar is gone, the laundromat is gone, the general store is gone,” Sykes told the Sacramento Bee, adding, “I’ll never go back.” … I never want to see California again. “

The fire also threatened Paradise, a city that was destroyed in 2018 by the deadliest fire in the state’s history. More than 80 residents died and almost 20,000 buildings were destroyed in the fire.

California on fire: Eye-catching satellite images show how the fires unfold

In the Sierra National Forest, authorities say it will likely take at least a week and possibly up to a month for the Creek Fire to be controlled enough to allow residents to return. The fire has displaced tens of thousands of Californians, and the Red Cross has already helped more than 600 people with hotel rooms as group accommodations are banned during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Firefighters have not yet released detailed maps of the fire damage, but say at least 60 homes and 278 commercial residential structures have been destroyed. Rocky Alec, 22, and Kristen Kipp, 21, decided to leave their trailer near Mammoth.

“You really couldn’t see anything. There was smoke everywhere. We had too much smoke to see flames,” Alec said. “At first we were like it was just another fire. Then it became real. “

Fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties in southern California. However, the high winds predicted for the area in Santa Ana were weaker than predicted.

The El Dorado fire, which burned approximately 20 square kilometers in San Bernardino County, was classified as containing 23% on Thursday. Nearly 1,000 firefighters have been “actively involved in structural protection and have successfully defended multiple structures,” said Cal Fire.

Homes have been lost, however, and damage assessment teams have been working to confirm the extent of the damage, the number of homes and businesses, and their locations. Firefighters said the fire was started by a pyrotechnic device used during a “gender reveal” event on Saturday.

The strong, gusty winds over the west are expected to subside Thursday and through the weekend, the National Weather Service said.

“We are encouraged that wind activity appears to be decreasing,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “The rest of the week looks a little cheaper.”

However, low humidity and warmer temperatures are sufficient for increased fire concerns to persist, according to the weather service. In addition, the more stagnant air mass is likely to keep smoke areas in place in the northwest, the Great Basin, California and other forest fire-related areas, resulting in persistent poor air quality, AccuWeather said.

Major relief for the Northwest could be on the way by early next week, when a storm system approaches the coast and potentially brings welcome rainfall, according to AccuWeather.

“We could hear the trees explode”: At least 7 dead when forest fires raged in the west

Several weeks of fire time remain in a region that is afflicted by high heat and parched terrain. California has already set a record: nearly 2.3 million acres were burned this year. Oregon and Washington State are also battling historic flames.

Wind-powered fires also flared up in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Three people were killed in a series of fires in Oregon, forcing residents to flee from fire, smoke and destruction. Governor Kate Brown said hundreds of homes were destroyed. She said rescue workers have been “flooded” and residents have been told not to call 911 to report smoke or clouds of ash.

“This could be the largest wildfire loss of human life and property in our state’s history,” Brown said.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee blamed climate change and promised “steps to overcome the effects of global warming”.

“We will not leave the future of this state to climate change,” he said. “We are stronger, smarter and more resilient.” And I will think of these fires and the communities they will affect as we take our next steps to combat climate change.

Bacon reports from Arlington, VA. Contributor: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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