Huge loss of life expected as fires destroy five towns in Oregon

Portland: An unprecedented spate of fierce, wind-driven bushfires in Oregon have all but destroyed five small towns, leaving a potentially high death toll in their wake, the governor said, as initial casualty reports began to surface.

While more than two dozen major blazes continued to wreak havoc across wide swaths of California, the neighbouring state of Oregon bore the latest brunt of bushfires plaguing much of the western United States over the past week.

The smoke-darkened sky of Salem, Oregon well before sunset.Credit:Russ Casler/AP

Winds of up to 80 kilometres per hour sent flames racing tens of kilometres within hours, engulfing hundreds of homes as firefighters fought at least 35 large blazes across areas roughly equal to nearly twice the size of New York City.

Several Oregon communities, including the town of Detroit in the Santiam Valley, as well as Blue River and Vida in coastal Lane County, and Phoenix and Talent in the south, were substantially destroyed, Governor Kate Brown told a news conference.

"This could be the greatest loss in human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history," Brown said, without providing details. She described rescue teams saving evacuees by pulling them from rivers where they took refuge from flames.

A 12-year-old boy and his grandmother died near the Santiam Valley community of Lyons, south of Portland, KOIN News reported.

Three chairs are all that remain at the Gates Post office in Gates, Oregon. The post office was destroyed by bushfires along with several other buildings in the Santiam Canyon community.Credit:Albany Democrat-Herald/AP

Hundreds of kilometres away in northern California, three fatalities were confirmed on Wednesday from a lightning-sparked conflagration that roared back to life with greater intensity this week after firefighters had made significant headway containing it.

Officials said some 64,000 people were under evacuation orders in California on Wednesday while crews battled 28 major fires raging across portions of the most populous US state.

About a third of those evacuees displaced in hard-hit areas of Butte County, north of Sacramento, where fire has scorched more than 200,000 acres (80,000 hectares) since it ignited on August 17.

The remains of three victims were found in two separate locations in that fire zone, according to Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, bringing the total death toll from this year's devastating spate of California fires to at least 11.

Vehicles travel along State Route 24 in Oakland, California.Credit:Bloomberg

The darkened skies also prevented California's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, from doing aerial inspections needed to restore power to about 167,000 customers because of poor visibility. The power was proactively cut Monday in an effort to prevent power line-sparked wildfires.

“It was scary. Especially as red as the sky was,” said Patricia Fouts, who evacuated from a senior living centre due to a massive fire east of Salem, Oregon.

Reuters, AP

Most Viewed in World

Source: Read Full Article