Oregon wildfires force mass evacuations, Trump to tour scorched California
Firestorms in California, Oregon, Washington driven by high winds amid intense heat
Search and rescue crews using dogs combed through neighborhoods 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 have destroyed thousands of homes and at least half a dozen small towns in the latest outbreak of wildfires that have raged across the western United States this summer, collectively scorching a landscape the size of New Jersey and killing at least 26 people since early August.
But after four days of treacherously hot, windy weather, a glimmer of hope arrived in the form of calmer winds blowing in from the ocean, bringing cooler, moister conditions that helped firefighters make headway against blazes that had burned largely unchecked earlier in the week.
At least six people have been killed this week in Oregon, according to the state's wildfire tracking website, and Gov. Kate Brown has warned that dozens of people had been reported missing in three counties.
In California, tens of thousands of firefighters were battling 28 major wildfires as of Saturday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
'This is a climate damn emergency'
The White House said Trump, a Republican, will meet with local and federal officials in McClellan Park near the California state capital of Sacramento on Monday after travelling to Nevada for a fundraiser and a pair of rallies for his campaign to be re-elected in November. He has been sharply critical of California in the past for allowing conditions that he says permit wildfires.
His Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, on Saturday linked the conflagrations to climate change, echoing comments made a day earlier by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
"This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it's happening. This is the perfect storm," Newsom told reporters on Friday from a charred mountainside near Oroville, Calif.
WATCH | How climate change is worsening West Coast wildfires:
The Pacific Northwest as a whole has borne the brunt of an incendiary onslaught that began around Labour Day, darkening the sky with smoke and ash that has beset northern California, Oregon and Washington with some of the world's worst air-quality levels.
Paradise, a town blasted by California's deadliest wildfire in 2018, 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 have been incinerated in California alone over the past three weeks.
In southern Oregon, an apocalyptic scene of charred residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for kilometres along Highway 99 south of Medford through the neighbouring towns of Phoenix and Talent, one of the most devastated areas.
Molalla, a community about 40 kilometres south of downtown Portland, was an ash-covered ghost town after its more than 9,000 residents were told to evacuate, with only 30 refusing to leave, the city's fire department said.
The logging town was on the front line of a vast evacuation zone stretching north to within 4.8 kilometres of downtown Portland. The sheriff in suburban Clackamas County set a 10 p.m. curfew to deter "possible increased criminal activity."
In Portland, the Multnomah County Sheriff chastised residents who had set up their own checkpoints to stop cars after conspiracy theories spread on social media that members of Black Lives Matter or Antifa were lighting fires. Local officials have called those assertions groundless.
"We are removing false claims that the wildfires in Oregon were started by certain groups," a Facebook spokesman said on Saturday. "This is based on confirmation from law enforcement that these rumours are forcing local fire and police agencies to divert resources from fighting the fires and protecting the public."
Gov. Brown told a news conference that more than 500,000 people were under one of three evacuation alert levels, advising them to pack and be vigilant, to be ready to flee at a moment's notice or to leave immediately. About 40,000 of those had already been ordered to leave.