Approximately half a million people in Oregon were on emergency warnings on Friday, with inhabitants of its largest city being advised to be ready to leave, as wildfires that have claimed 24 lives since they exploded in August ripped through three states of the US West Coast.
Around 100 wildfires have ravaged an area almost as large as New Jersey in the US, belching out smoke that has caused California, Oregon, and Washington some of the worst levels of air pollution anywhere in the country.
In hard-hit Oregon, on Friday rescue teams reached areas where fires were raging in rural towns, the director of the state emergency response agency said, adding officials were preparing for potential “mass casualty events.”
Molalla, a village about 25 miles (40 km) south of downtown Portland, was an ash-covered ghost town after being ordered to evacuate its more than 9,000 people, with about 30 refusing to leave, said the city’s fire department.
The timber town was on the front line of a large evacuation zone extending north to 3 miles (4.8 km) from downtown Portland, with Clackamas County Police setting a 10 p.m .. PDT (0500 on Saturday GMT) curfew to prevent “possible heightened violence.”
Governor Kate Brown of Oregon told a press conference that 40,000 residents are on mandatory evacuation warnings. About 500,000 people were on either red “GO” evacuation advisories! “Notifications to leave immediately, yellow” BE Prepared “alerts to leave at the time of notification, or green” BE READY “notifications, she added.
It was expected that a decrease in temperatures, higher moisture levels, and predicted rain would aid firefighters entering the weekend in cities like Molalla, at the mercy of wind intensity and direction after two of Oregon’s biggest wildfires combined into one.
“The conditions would be favorable for us,” said Doug Grafe, Fire Safety officer for the Forestry Department of Oregon.
In Southern Oregon, by Phoenix and Creativity, one of the most ravaged regions, an unimaginable scene of burning suburban subdivisions and trailer parks spread for miles along Highway 99 south of Medford, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.
The evacuation of the Bear Creek Mobile Home Park five miles south of Medford was identified by a Mexican-American family as flocks of birds fled from advancing flames and sparks started to rain down on their property.
41-year-old Beatriz Gomez Bolanos told her children to close their eyes as flames erupted on all sides of their vehicle when they fled.
“We have to resume from zero all over again, but we are alive,” Gomez Bolanos said. Like her parents, she emigrated to the United States from Mexico 20 years ago, where she gave birth to her four children.
The death count from the West Coast fire siege that started in August soared to 24 after seven people were confirmed to have been killed in a fire burning in mountains about 85 miles north of Sacramento, Calif. In California alone, more than 3,900 homes and other buildings have been destroyed, state fire authority Cal Fire reported.
Brown said there were hundreds of residents in the Jackson, Marion and Lane counties in Oregon who were confirmed missing after fires.
More than 68,000 residents were under evacuation warnings in California, where the worst fire in state history burnt more than 740,000 acres (299,470 hectares) in the Mendocino National Forest about 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Sacramento.