Oregon wildfires: Half a million people flee dozens of infernos
More than half a million people in the US state of Oregon are fleeing deadly wildfires that are raging across the Pacific Northwest, authorities say.
Fanned by unusually hot, dry winds, dozens of fires are sweeping the state. At least one is being treated as suspected arson.
Governor Kate Brown said the exact number of fatalities was not yet known, though at least four were confirmed.
More than 100 wildfires are currently scorching 12 western US states.
The worst affected are Oregon, California and Washington, where entire towns have been destroyed.
Some 4.4 million acres have been razed, according to the National Interagency Fire Center – an area larger than Connecticut and slightly smaller than Wales.
What is the latest in Oregon?
On Thursday evening, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management confirmed the latest evacuation figures, which amount to more than 10% of the state’s 4.2 million population.
Gov Brown, a Democrat, said: “We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state… This will not be a one-time event. Unfortunately, it is the bellwether of the future. We’re feeling the acute impacts of climate change.”
While natural factors such as strong winds have helped the spread of these massive fires, the underlying heating of the climate from human activities is making these conflagrations bigger and more explosive.
Nine of the world’s 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, and the UN warned this week that the five years from 2016 until this year will very likely be the hottest such period yet recorded. Both Oregon and California have warmed by more than 1C since 1900.
The sustained warmth has seen six of the 20 largest fires on record in California all occur this year. In Oregon, the spate of fires has burned nearly twice the average annual losses in just the past week.
In California, a prolonged drought over the past decade has killed millions of trees, turning them into potent fuel for the fires. Mountain regions that are normally cooler and wetter have dried out more rapidly in the summer, adding to the potential fuel load.
Climate scientists had forecast that western wildfires would grow in size, scale and impact – but their predictions are coming to fruition faster than expected.
The victims in Oregon include a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother, who died in a wildfire near Lyons, 70 miles (110km) south of Portland.
Wyatt Tofte, his dog, and his grandmother Peggy Mosso died in the family car trying to escape the blaze. The child’s mother was severely burnt.
Lonnie Bertalotto, Ms Mosso’s son and Wyatt’s uncle, confirmed the deaths in a Facebook post. “Don’t take anything in life for granted and make the best of everyday,” he wrote.
Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office, told Reuters news agency: “Every fire is investigated for the possibility of arson so that we can either determine it is or rule it out.”
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