Wildfires Blaze Across 12 U.S. States
At least 35 people have died in a series of 94 wildfires raging along the West Coast of the United States. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 30,000 firefighters and support personnel are assigned to the incidents across 12 states, and evacuation orders remain in effect for communities near 36 of the large fires. Just five of the fires have been contained.
Large fires are currently reported in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
In Oregon, more than 40,000 people have been evacuated, and about 500,000 are in evacuation zones. More than 30 fires are burning there, and they are getting closer to the suburbs of Portland, NPR reported. Hundreds of homes in southern Oregon burned after the Almeda Fire blazed through the towns of Phoenix and Talent.
Oregon’s emergency management director said officials are preparing for a possible “mass fatality event” if more bodies are found in the ash of burned out towns, The Associated Press reported.
Fire potential in the Pacific Northwest is expected to decline slightly in the next few days as dry winds die down and the chance of rain increases. However, firefighting teams are bracing for unpredictable wind gusts and dry weather this week in certain areas. The winds from a slow-moving storm system off the Oregon coast could push smoke as far as Montana, Idaho, and Canada, The New York Times reported.
In California, nearly 15,000 firefighters were battling 28 major wildfires. So far in 2020, wildfires have burned 26 times more ground than over the same period in 2019. Gusting winds fueled and spread the fires rapidly last week.
Air quality has also taken a hit during the fires. In Oregon, smoke created the dirtiest air in 35 years in some places—in Salem, the state capital, the air quality reading was 512 on Saturday morning, the AP reported. The scale normally goes from zero to 500. While smoke made it more difficult to breathe, it also lowered temperatures and raised humidity, which helped stifle the fires’ spread, according to USA Today.