Search and rescue teams, with dogs, were deployed across the black ruins of cities in southern Oregon on Sunday as raging bushfires continued to sweep through the western United States and officials warned of mass casualties.
Storming wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington states have destroyed thousands of homes and six small towns this summer, burning a landscape the size of New Jersey and killing at least 26 people since early August.
High School Tracey Kowa returned to Talent, Oregon, on Saturday after being evacuated with her partner, Dave Tanksley, and her 13-year-old daughter, to find her home and neighborhood reduced to piles of ashes and rubble.
“We learned she was gone,” Kowa said in a phone interview on Sunday. “But then, it stops, and every home is just destroyed. You think about every family, every parking lot, every car that’s burning, and there are no words for that.”
The crew in Jackson County, Oregon were hoping to venture into the countryside as the Alameda fire subsided slightly as the winds slowed, sending dense plumes of smoke billowing as the coals burned. From Medford through the neighboring communities of Phoenix and Talent, a terrifying sight of charred residential divisions and kilometer-long trailer parks along Highway 99.
Community donation centers popped up across Jackson County over the weekend, including one in the parking lot of the Home Depot in Phoenix, where farmers brought a pickup truck filled with watermelon and people brought water and other supplies.
After four days of hot and windy weather, the weekend brought calmer winds blowing land from the Pacific Ocean and cooler and wetter conditions helped crews make progress in the face of fires that burned unchecked earlier in the week.
However, emergency officials are concerned that the changing weather may not be enough to put out the fires.
Watch | British Columbia’s skies are foggy with smoke from US wildfires, which poses health risks:
“We are concerned that the incoming front will not bring much rain here in the Medford area and will bring in increased winds,” Land Management Office spokesman Kyle Sullivan told Reuters in a phone interview on Sunday.
At least 10 people have been killed in Oregon, according to the Office of Emergency Management. Gov. Kate Brown said dozens of people were still missing in three counties.
There were 34 active fires burning in Oregon as of Sunday morning, according to the state’s Office of Emergency Management website.
Brown described the risky fires as “a one-in-a-generation event,” and Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Andrew Phelps, said authorities were preparing for the possibility of “mass deaths”.
Dense smoke and ash from the fires have darkened the skies over the Pacific Northwest since Labor Day, causing some of the world’s worst air quality levels and driving residents indoors. On Sunday, the Bureau of Land Administration said on Twitter that satellite images showed smoke billowing from the inside in an easterly direction.
Drought conditions, extreme temperatures and high winds in Oregon have created the “perfect firestorm” for the wildfires to grow, Governor Brown told CBS. Face the nation On Sunday.
“This is a wake-up call for all of us that we must do everything in our power to confront climate change,” she said.
Trump visits California
In California, tens of thousands of firefighters were fighting 28 major fires as of Saturday noon, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Better weather has helped them gain containment for most of the fires.
The White House said US President Donald Trump, a Republican, will meet federal and California officials on Monday. Trump said western state governors bear some of the blame for severe fire seasons in recent years, accusing them of mismanaging forests.
His Democratic rival in the November election, Joe Biden, on Saturday, linked the clashes to climate change, echoing comments made the day before by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
More than 4,000 homes and other facilities have been burned down in California alone in the past three weeks.
In Portland, Oregon, where more than 100 days of political protests have turned into an increasingly tense state in recent weeks, the sheriff of Multnomah County blamed residents for setting up their own checkpoints to park cars after conspiracy theories spread on social media that members of the Black Lives Matter was setting fires. Local officials described these assertions as unfounded.
Facebook said Saturday it is now removing false claims that the Oregon bushfires have been started by certain groups.
A Facebook spokesperson said, “This is based on assertion from law enforcement that these rumors are forcing local fire agencies and police to divert resources from fighting fires and protecting the public.”