Destructive wildfires tear through U.S. West Coast, prompt widespread evacuations in Oregon

Dozens of major wildfires are burning through the U.S. West Coast, destroying hundreds of homes and wiping out entire neighborhoods in two towns in Oregon. 

More than 3 million acres have burned in California, a record in state history. The August Complex that started from a series of lightning strikes last month has become the biggest wildfire in California’s history.

“The debate is over around climate change, just come to the state of California, observe it with your own eyes. It’s not an intellectual debate. It’s not even debateable any longer,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday. “We’re experiencing what so many people predicted decades ago.” 

Newsom on Friday said he is directing his administration to speed up California’s environmental goals, which he says aren’t enough, as well as pushing to invest more in green energy.

The Ashland Police Department in Oregon has opened an arson investigation for the Almeda Fire, which killed two people and decimated two towns. The death toll from the Almeda Fire is expected to rise as search teams look through the destruction. 

Four people died from the fires in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died from the blazes in Washington state. A fire has also killed at least 10 people in California, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office reported on Thursday evening. Officials are still searching for missing people. There have been at least 20 fatalities so far from the fires and the death toll is expected to rise. 

In this aerial view from a drone, homes destroyed by fire are shown on September 10, 2020 in Phoenix, Oregon. Hundreds of homes in the town have been lost due to wildfire.

David Ryder | Getty Images

About 500,000 people are under evacuation orders in Oregon, over roughly 10% of the state’s population, as the state battles nearly three dozen fires.

The blazes have also destroyed entire communities in Oregon, including Detroit; Blue River and Vida; and Phoenix and Talent. In Washington state, fires destroyed most of the homes in the town of Malden. 

Portland General Electric has received unconfirmed reports that some fires in Oregon may have been started by electrical equipment impacted by heavy winds and debris. Company shares fell after CNBC reported the news on Thursday.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said more than 900,000 acres have burned in her state, well above the yearly average of 500,000 acres in the state. 

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” Brown said at a press conference Thursday. “We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change.” 

A Coulson 737 firefighting tanker jet drops fire retardant to slow Bobcat Fire at the top of a major run up a mountainside in the Angeles National Forest on September 10, 2020 north of Monrovia, California.

David McNew | Getty Images

In California, about 64,000 people are under evacuation orders while firefighters battle 29 major fires. Six of the top 20 largest wildfires in state history have happened this year, according to Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency. 

The Bear Fire, which filled the skies in Northern California with smoke and turned them dark yellow-orange, has forced thousands to evacuate and damaged or destroyed about 2,000 structures. It’s became the 10th largest fire in California history. 

Satellite imagery of smoke from wildfires in Northern California, Sept. 4-10, 2020. Source: NASA Worldview

Spencer Kimball | CNBC

Extreme heat and dry conditions driven by climate change have sparked major fires in the West, which are further fueled by high winds. 

Firefighters have traveled from Texas, Colorado and Utah to help with fight the blazes, but emergency response is stretched thin with many of the fires still not contained. “Every firefighting entity in Washington state would like to have more resources right now,” Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said. 

State and local officials are worried that some people were unable to evacuate their homes that were decimated by the blazes and expect the death toll to rise as search efforts continue. 

Oregon residents evacuate north along highway Highway 213 on September 9, 2020 near Oregon City, Oregon.

Nathan Howard | Getty Images

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