Wildfires ravage Pacific Northwest
PORTLAND, Oregon – Search and rescue crews using dogs combed through neighbourhoods left in blackened ruins by massive wildfires burning across three states on Saturday, and U.S. president Donald Trump said he would travel to California to see the devastation first-hand.
Flames destroyed thousands of homes and a half dozen small towns in the latest outbreak of wildfires that have raged across the western United States this summer, scorching a landscape the size of New Jersey and killing at least 26 people since early August.
But after four days of brutally hot, windy weather, the weekend brought calmer winds blowing inland from the Pacific Ocean, and cooler, moister conditions that helped crews make headway against blazes that had burned unchecked earlier in the week.
At least six people were killed this week in Oregon, according to the state’s wildfire tracking website. Governor Kate Brown said that dozens of people remained missing across three counties.
In California, tens of thousands of firefighters were battling 28 major wildfires as of Saturday afternoon, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Improving weather conditions helped them gain a measure of containment over most of the blazes.
The White House said Trump, a Republican, will meet with California officials on Monday. The president said that western governors bear some of the blame for intense fire seasons in recent years, accusing them of poor forest management.
Trump’s Democratic opponent in the November election, Joe Biden, on Saturday linked the conflagrations to climate change, echoing comments made a day earlier by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
“The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes,” Newsom said in a briefing livestreamed from a charred mountainside near Oroville, California.
The Pacific Northwest has since Labour Day endured a string of fierce wildfires that have darkened the sky with thick smoke and ash, creating some of the world’s worst air-quality levels and driving residents indoors.
The small mountain town of Paradise, California, nearly destroyed in 2018 by the deadliest wildfire in state history, posted the world’s worst air quality index reading at 592, according to the PurpleAir monitoring site, as two of the state’s largest blazes burned on either side of it.
More than 4 000 homes and other structures were incinerated in California alone over the past three weeks.
In southern Oregon, an apocalyptic scene of charred residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for miles along Highway 99 south of Medford through the neighbouring communities of Phoenix and Talent. (Reuters)