Thousands of Oregon evacuees shelter from wildfires as US disaster declared
Thousands of evacuees displaced by deadly wildfires in Oregon settled into the second week of life in shelters and car camping on Tuesday as fire crews battled on, and search teams scoured the ruins of incinerated homes for the missing.
With state resources stretched to their limit, President Donald Trump approved a request from Oregon’s governor for a federal disaster declaration, bolstering US government assistance for emergency response and relief efforts.
Dozens of fires have charred some 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of tinder-dry brush, grass and woodlands in Oregon, California and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 34 people.
Eight deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, which became the latest and most concentrated hot spot in a larger summer outbreak of fires across the entire western United States. The Pacific Northwest was the hardest hit.
The conflagrations, which officials and scientists have described as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have also filled the region’s skies with smoke and soot, compounding a public health crisis already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Satellite images showed high-altitude plumes of smoke from the fires drifting as far east as New York City and Washington, D.C., carried aloft by the jet stream.
The fires roared to life in California in mid-August and erupted across Oregon and Washington around Labor Day last week, many of them sparked by catastrophic lightning storms and stoked by record-breaking heatwaves and bouts of howling winds.
Weather conditions improved early this week, enabling firefighters to begin to make headway in efforts to contain and tamp down the blazes.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said 16,600 firefighters were still battling 25 major fires on Tuesday, after achieving full containment around the perimeter of other large blazes.
Firefighters in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles waged an all-out campaign to save the famed Mount Wilson Observatory and an adjacent complex of broadcast transmission towers from flames that crept to within 500 feet of the site.