Tired firefighters try to fight back raging flames.
Exhausted firefighters worked Sunday to fight back raging forest fires that have scorched millions of acres in three western states, while a fearful search continues for dozens of people who are unreported.
At least 23 people were killed in the fires, and in Oregon, which has suffered the worst blow in recent days, officials have warned of the possibility of “mass deaths.”
Thousands were driven from their homes as the communities were engulfed in flames, leaving only charred ruins after they burned through. The fires also affected much of the west coast, leaving the region with the worst air quality on the planet, according to official reports.
The Oregon fires have already consumed more than a million acres and displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes. That’s on top of the record-breaking 3.1 million acres burned in California and more than 600,000 acres in Washington State.
The National Weather Service announced on Sunday that the air quality in some cities could improve from Monday.
Calmer winds blowing inland from the Pacific Ocean and cooler, wetter conditions on Saturday had helped crews make some headway on the fires, which Oregon Governor Kate Brown described as a “one-off event”.
Ms. Brown said it was clear that the intensity of the forest fires was triggered by a “perfect firestorm” of conditions such as fast winds, high temperatures and decades of drought. For most of the past decade, about 500,000 acres have burned, but this week alone, she said, more than a million acres burned in the state.
“This is a wake-up call for all of us,” she said.
But Ms. Brown, who appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation program, said improving weather conditions on Sunday could give firefighters a hold if they urge to contain the fires. “It gives our hardworking firefighters an opportunity to be proactive and build containment lines,” she said.
Even after Ms. Brown made her assessment, the National Weather Service issued a “red flag warning” that windy and dry weather was expected in southern Oregon and nearby California counties. Some areas could see gusts of up to 40 miles per hour, and forecasters said the winds were “likely to contribute to the significant spread of new and existing fires.”
“We could watch a challenging Sunday,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Warnings on Sunday included Jackson County, Oregon, where the Almeda fire swept through the Talent and Phoenix communities, scorching hundreds of homes and killing at least five people. Jackson County authorities said their missing person list remained at around 50, although some were found certain.
On Saturday, Oregon State Police announced that state firefighter James Walker had resigned after being taken on administrative leave earlier in the day. The statement did not state why Mr Walker had resigned. He was replaced by his deputy Mariana Ruiz-Temple.
President Trump is expected to visit McClellan Park in California on Monday to be informed of the forest fires. Mr Trump recognized the severity of the fires across the coast. “I spoke to the people in Oregon, Washington,” he said late Saturday. “You have never had anything like it.”
Mr Trump cited a lack of forest management as a driving force behind the outbreak of fires, which drew sharp reprimands from West Coast officials.
“Now we have a blowtorch about our states in the west what climate change is,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee in an interview about “This Week”. “And we know that climate change makes it easier to start fires, that it spreads faster and intensifies.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said it was important that the president himself witness the devastation. As part of CNN’s State of the Union program, he attacked Mr Trump for his efforts to relax air conditioning regulations, saying the government had its “head in the sand” on environmental issues.
“This is not just about forest management or raking,” said Garcetti. “Everyone who lives here in California is openly offended by this, and he perpetuates this lie over and over again.”
At least 23 people have died in the last flames on the west coast.
They lived more than 500 miles apart – one in the wooded foothills of the Sierra Nevada, northeast of California’s capital Sacramento, the other in a thickly forested canyon east of Oregon’s capital, Salem.
Josiah Williams, 16.
Wyatt Tofte, Jan.
It was young people who were cut short and victims of the great western forest fires of 2020.
The arrival of the fire season in the American West always brings with it fears of death, especially among the elderly and frail people who cannot escape the flames.
But the deaths of Josiah and Wyatt, two athletic teenagers, speaks to the speed and ferocity of the fires that burned a record number of acres that year, four million in California and Oregon combined.
With thick smoke covering much of Washington, Oregon, and California and tens of thousands of people evacuated, the fires were the worst in decades, exacerbated by climate change. As of Saturday, fires in California had burned 26 times more territory than at the same time last year.
Law enforcement agencies across the west searched burned communities for missing people this weekend. At least 23 people were killed in the fires, dozens more were missing and the main fire season is only just beginning in many parts of the West.
Although fires have proven more deadly in recent years – a 2018 firestorm that decimated the California city of Paradise killed more than 80 people in a single night – the numbers obscure the trauma that each death brings to small communities, where forest fires caused such terror.
Ash fell from an apocalyptic orange sky as Jennifer Willin drove home last week from the only school in tiny Berry Creek, California, where she found a couple of WiFi hotspots for her daughters’ long distance classes. Hours later, her cell phone broke out with an emergency alarm: evacuate immediately.
The next morning, what one official called a “massive wall of fire” had hit the entire northern California city of approximately 1,200 residents, killing nine residents and destroying the school and almost every home and business.
Ms. Willin and her family fled to a cramped hotel room 60 miles away. In her panic, she had forgotten to grab masks, but she had the hot spots along with her daughters’ laptops and school books. On Monday, the two girls plan to meet their teachers on Zoom to find some comfort in the chaos.
In the midst of twin disasters, the distance learning preparations that schools have hit for the coronavirus crisis has provided teachers and students with an odd level of stability, allowing many to stay connected and comfortable in an unexpected form of virtual community.
“You can still be at school,” said Mrs. Willin, “even though the school burned down.”
Forest fire smoke, which can include toxic substances from burned buildings, has been linked to serious health problems.
Studies have shown that waves of smoke increase the rate of hospital visits and that many of the additional patients have breathing problems, heart attacks and strokes.
The health effects of devastating smoke don’t go away when the sky is clear. A recent study of Montana residents suggested a long tail for exposure to forest fire smoke.
Erin Landguth, associate professor in the Department of Public and Community Health Sciences at the University of Montana and lead author of the study, said research showed that “after a bad fire season, expect the flu three to five times worse” months later.
If you can’t get out of an area with high smoke levels, the CDC recommends limiting exposure by staying indoors with the windows and doors closed and using air conditioners in recirculation mode to keep outside air from entering your home.
Portable air purifiers are also recommended, but like air conditioners, they require electricity. When utility companies cut power, as they did in California, those options are limited.
If you have electricity, avoid frying food as it can increase smoke indoors.
Experts say it is especially important to avoid cigarettes. They also recommend avoiding strenuous outdoor activities when the air is bad. Well-fitting N95 masks are also recommended outdoors, but these are in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some other masks, particularly tightly woven masks made of various layers of fabric, can provide “pretty good filtration” when fitted snugly to the face, said Sarah Henderson, senior researcher in environmental health services at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control.
The coverage was contributed by Mike Baker, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Thomas Fuller, And Levin and Kate Taylor.