As firefighters hope to gain ground on some West Coast fires, others prompt more evacuations

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'Like a town hit by firebombing': Owners get first look at destroyed homes
01:31 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

With rain finally arriving in parts of the West Coast, fire officials hope the forecast will help them gain ground on the deadly wildfires that forced thousands to evacuate this week.

Much of the rain will drop over the west slopes of the Cascade Mountains, exactly where Oregon Department of Forestry fire chief Doug Grafe would “ask for it,” he says.

Rain is forecast for parts of Oregon and Washington but there’s little rainfall in sight for California, where officials warned warm and dry conditions will elevate the danger of fire over the weekend.

The state has seen more than 3.4 million acres scorched so far this year, killing 26 people and reducing hundreds of homes to ashes. The death count rose by one after a firefighter was killed while fighting the El Dorado Fire, the blaze sparked this month by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used at a gender reveal party.

Fresh evacuations were ordered Thursday in parts of southern California threatened by the Bobcat Fire, which has torched more than 60,577 acres and is 41% contained, according to the US Forest Service.

It’s one of about 79 uncontained large fires burning across the US West as of Friday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Together, blazes in California, Oregon and Washington have burned more than 5.8 million acres, a spokesman and a report from the NIFC say. At least 34 people have died.

Many still leaving their homes behind

California authorities ordered residents to leave communities around Juniper Hills Thursday, following “rapid” growth of the Bobcat Fire.

‘We got everything together, all of our valuables, things we wanted to have, paperwork and stuff like that, pictures,” Juniper Hills resident Peter Trono told CNN affiliate KCAL.

“I hope my neighbors all get out and they’re all safe,” he said. “And I just pray we come back to a home and if we don’t, it’s just stuff, right?”

Similar scenes have played out across the state in past weeks, as violent flames forced residents out of their homes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says climate change is to blame.

“The fundamental facts cannot be denied,” the governor said. “The trendlines are not going in the right direction.”

Since the beginning of the year, California has seen nearly 7,900 wildfires, Cal Fire says. More than 6,200 structures across the state have been damaged or destroyed.

In Riverside County, a fire that started Thursday has already grown to 1,200 acres and is 0% contained. A community near the Snow Creek Fire was ordered to evacuate Thursday afternoon, CNN affiliate KTLA reported.

New danger looms

In Oregon, Sen. Jeff Merkley says surveying the damage looked like a “World War II ground hit by fire bombing and thousands of homes destroyed, residences destroyed.”

“A lot of them are apartment buildings and mobile home parks, manufactured housing parks, so a lot of the families who had very modest housing, the most affordable housing, the housing is gone. We had commercial districts burnt to the ground. It’s overwhelming.”

Laura and Gerald Pierce told CNN affiliate KPTV their home, which served as a camp for people with special needs, was completely destroyed in the Beachie Creek Fire. The couple dedicated more than 40 years to serving the residents of the camp.

“There’s nothing left,” Laura Pierce said, adding that the camp served people of all ages and was more than just recreational activities for the residents.

“It’s a time where people can be tested in their own self-confidence it’s a time when people can create friendships and community,” she said.

Gerald Pierce said the couple will rebuild.

“We’re going to start over,” he said. “People need that respite and that recreation, that community.”

The Beachie Creek Fire has burned more than 190,000 acres and is 20% contained, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

The ground that’s been destroyed in Oregon can give way to another danger now looming: mudslides.

“Recently burnt ground has a better chance of erosion/mudslides. Know when you are in relation to them,” the National Weather Service in Pendleton, Oregon, said in a Twitter post.

Mudslides can occur when burned ground that is missing the vegetation which stabilizes the soil grows heavy with rainwater. Unable to hold its weight, the soil begins flowing down a slope, gathering debris and speed as it goes.

“They can flow rapidly, striking with little or no warning at avalanche speeds – faster than you can run,” Clackamas County emergency officials said, according to CNN affiliate KATU.

CNN’s Joe Sutton and Rob Shackelford contributed to this report.