OREGON, US: Around half a million people in Oregon evacuated as dozens of extreme, wind-driven wildfires scorched US West Coast states on Friday, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 16 people, state and local authorities said.
In southern Oregon, an apocalyptic scene of burned residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for miles along Highway 99 south of Medford through Phoenix and Talent, one of the worst hit areas, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.
Blazes jumped from wildfires burning through scrub and forest to suburban firestorms as embers blew for miles. Online video from the Tacoma, Washington, area showed fires starting in a residential area and setting homes ablaze, and locals running from house to house to warn neighbours.
“Everybody out, everybody out,” a man screamed as firefighters tried to douse flames. Since Monday, 11 people have died from fires in California, while four were killed in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died in Washington state, police reported.
In Oregon alone the number of people under evacuation orders climbed to some 500,000 — about an eighth of the state’s total population — as Portland suburbs came under threat as two of the state’s biggest blazes merged into one, the state Office of Emergency Management said.
Thousands more were displaced north and south in the neighbouring states of Washington and California. Oregon bore the brunt of nearly 100 major wildfires raging across Western states, with around 3,000 firefighters battling nearly three dozen blazes and officials saying about twice as many people were needed. Police have opened a criminal arson investigation into the Oregon blaze, the Almeda Fire, which destroyed much of Phoenix and talent and started in Ashland near the border with California, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said.
At least four Oregon police departments warned of “fake” online messages appearing to be from law enforcement that blamed left-wing anti-fascists and right-wing Proud Boy activists for starting the fires. The Oregon blazes tore through multiple communities in the Cascade mountain range as well as areas of coastal rainforest normally spared from wildfires. — Reuters