Deadly wildfires have blanketed swaths of the West Coast with unhealthy smoke, complicating efforts to fight the blazes and find dozens of missing people, and compounding the misery of thousands who’ve been displaced.
“You just never believe it’s all going to go up in flames,” Marian Telersky, who lost her home in the southern Oregon city of Talent, told CNN affiliate KOBI. “It’s a lot to handle.”
Fires have killed at least 28 people in the three contiguous West Coast states since mid-August, including 19 in California, many of them in the past few days.
Blazes this week have killed a 1-year-old boy and another child in Washington and eight people in Oregon, including a teenage boy who in his last moments huddled with his dog inside a car that was engulfed in flames.
Thousands have fled their homes in Oregon alone, including Lori Johnson, who was awakened in the middle of the night by law enforcement shortly before fire consumed her home in Mill City.
“I got out with no socks, no nothing – literally, the clothes on our backs,” she told CNN affiliate KATU from Salem, where she and her family are staying temporarily while trying to figure out what do next.
Across the West, 97 large fires were burning Saturday, including 12 in Idaho and nine in Montana, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Federal air quality monitors are warning that smoke is making for unhealthy air Saturday in most of California, Oregon and Washington and parts of Idaho. That smoke could make people more vulnerable to Covid-19, doctors say.
In California, three of the five largest wildfires in the state’s history are burning now, officials say. Little rain, high temperatures and strong winds helped set the stage for the flames and fuel them. And officials say it may take a long time for them to stop.
At least eight of Oregon’s wildfires are expected to burn “until the winter’s rains fall,” Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe said Friday.
Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia’s department is fighting fires with 500 personnel, when it usually has 1,000 to 1,500, he said Saturday. Some firefighters are working more than 24 hours in a shift, he said. The Bobcat Fire northeast of Los Angeles is tearing through the mountainous national forest.
“This system is very, very well taxed right now with a number of large fires that are that are scattered, but particularly in California,” Garcia said, adding that it’s common for firefighters to work over 24 hours on a shift until relief comes.
With the current strain on the system, though, Garcia said “that relief isn’t coming in necessarily in 24 hours. So we’re having to find ways to maximize rest periods throughout the day.”
‘We saw the perfect storm’
At least eight of Oregon’s wildfires are expected to burn “until the winter’s rains fall,” said state Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe.
Nailah Garner’s dream home in Vida, Oregon, was reduced to ashes. She and her husband left their home on Monday after receiving a “Go now” alert on their phone while still in bed, according to CNN affiliate KOMO. She only found out about her home because her friend called her.
“It’s all gone and it’s like, it looks like a war zone hit it,” Garner told KOMO through tears. “She had sadness in her voice, I could totally tell.”
Carolee Brown told CNN she has relocated twice this week because of evacuation orders. She’s been losing sleep, constantly monitoring her home’s security camera online to see if it’s still standing. As of Saturday morning, it was.
“It’s unreal. You can’t really fathom what is going on,” she told CNN in Marion County. “You take what you think (you should), and you just get out.”
Two victims identified by the Marion County Medical Examiner’s Office were Wyatt Tofte, 13, and Peggy Mosso, 71, both of Lyons, about 60 miles southeast of Portland.
Two victims identified by the Marion County Medical Examiner’s Office were Wyatt Tofte, 13, and Peggy Mosso, 71, both of Lyons, Oregon, more than 60 miles southeast of Portland.
Wyatt was found in a car with his dog in his lap while Mosso, his grandmother, was found in another car nearby. Her daughter and Wyatt’s mother, Angela, attempted to save her and was badly burned. Two other victims were located but have not been recovered because of treacherous conditions.
Two other victims were located but have not been recovered due to “treacherous conditions,” the release said.
One person has died in the Holiday Farm fire, another died in the White River fire and two people have died in the Almeda Drive fire, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
The state is preparing for a “mass fatality incident” based on how many structures have been charred, Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said Friday.
Dozens of people are missing, mostly across Jackson, Lane and Marion counties in western Oregon, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.
The Beachie Creek Fire left neighborhoods in rubble and has scorched more than 186,000 acres.
“We had 29 houses on our block,” Monica Garrison told CNN affiliate KATU. “We have 10 left.”
The Beachie Creek Fire is the largest in the state and has no containment, officials say. Firefighters are racing to slow the blaze down before it merges with the nearby Riverside Fire, which has burned more than 130,000 acres.
About 500,000 people in the state are under some type of evacuation alert. Evacuation orders have been issued for more than 40,000, Brown said.
On top of all of this, Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker resigned Saturday following an announcement that he was placed on paid administrative leave, Oregon State Police said. State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton accepted Walker’s resignation, the alert said.
Walker was originally placed on leave due to an “internal personnel investigation,” Capt. Timothy Fox with Oregon State Police told CNN in an email.
Fox did not elaborate on what the investigation entailed. Walker was appointed to fire marshal in 2014.
Mariana Ruiz-Temple was subsequently appointed to state fire marshal, according to police. She has worked for the fire marshal’s office since 1995, according to Fox.
‘Never seen anything like this’
In California, firefighters are battling more than two dozen major fires across the state, but officials expressed hope Saturday that improving weather conditions will boost firefighters’ efforts to control the flames.
Just northeast of Los Angeles, the Bobcat Fire is tearing through the mountainous Angeles National Forest – and contributing to smoky air in the area.
“Thirty-plus years ago, I quit smoking. But I’ve started again in the last six days just from (breathing) the air,” Mike Day, of nearby Monrovia, told CNN on Saturday.
Fires in the state have burned more than 3.2 million acres so far, many times higher than what was burned by this time last year, according to Cal Fire. More than 4,000 structures have been destroyed this year, fire officials said.
In the Sierra Nevada range north of Sacramento, the North Complex Fire has torn through the Berry Creek community and Plumas National Forest since a lightning storm sparked it August 17, consuming more than 252,000 acres.
That fire has killed at least nine people, including a 16-year-old boy who was fleeing the area in his vehicle, Butte County authorities say. More than a dozen were missing, the sheriff’s office said this week.
In photos: 2020 wildfires on the West Coast
John Tripp, who evacuated his home in Butte County, says he has no idea what he’ll find when he returns.
“I’m from Miami. I’ve been through hurricanes. I’ve been through tornadoes. I’ve never seen anything like this,” he told CNN affiliate KCRA. “It’s just hard not knowing if you have anything.”
The blaze is burning just miles from Paradise, which was devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire. People in part of that town were told to be ready to leave earlier in the week.
Five people have died in the LNU Lightning Complex fire which is burning in Colusa, Lake, Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties, according to CalFire.
The CZU August Lightning Complex in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties has killed one person, another person has died in the August Complex Fire in Tehama County and two people died in the Slate Fire in Siskiyou County, CalFire’s update said.
President Donald Trump will visit California on Monday to get a briefing from local and federal emergency officials, the White House said Saturday. He’s expected to be at McClellan Park in Sacramento County, some 70 miles south of the North Complex Fire.
80% of buildings in Washington town destroyed
The past five days in Washington have made for the state’s second worst fire season in history, Gov. Jay Inslee said. As of Saturday, 15 major fires were burning.
A 1-year-old boy died and his parents were badly burned as they tried to escape a wildfire, officials said.
The family was visiting their property west of Spokane and evacuated when the wildfire encroached. They abandoned their vehicle and fled to a river, CNN affiliate KCRA reported. The couple was rescued, but their son did not make it.
Another child was killed in the Cold Springs Fire in Omak, near the Canadian border, officials said.
“My heart breaks for the family of the child who perished in the Cold Springs fire. I am devastated. The DNR family is devastated. The pain that family is going through is unfathomable,” Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a statement on social media Friday.
Earlier this week, Inslee visited Malden in eastern Washington, where 80% of the city’s buildings – including the fire station, post office, city hall and library – were destroyed.
“It looked like a bomb went off,” city officials said, according to CNN affiliate KIRO.
Businesses hit hard by fires and coronavirus
Many restaurants have shifted to more of an outdoor seating model in the last few months because of coronavirus, but many have now had to shut down or saw reduced customer traffic because of the poor air quality along the West Coast.
“Nobody wants to sit outside right now with all this smoke,” J.R. Much, a bartender at Lockspot Café in Seattle, told CNN affiliate KOMO.
Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard closed its doors Friday and will reassess Sunday morning when to reopen, general manager Doug Zellers told KOMO.
“We didn’t think it was safe for our team,” Zellers said. “We didn’t want to encourage the guests to come here.”
Maurice Darwish, owner of the Cove On Castro in San Francisco, told CNN affiliate KPIX the sudden fires and smoke has created just another issue for businesses to deal with.
“First we had to deal with the Covid and the shutdown,” Darwish said. “Then all of a sudden, we’ve got fires and smoke. It’s a very sad situation for everybody all around.”
CNN’s Melissa Alonso, Camila Bernal, Stella Chan, Sarah Moon, Raja Razek, Hollie Silverman, Chandler Thornton and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.