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Western Wildfires Kill At Least 8; August Complex Fire Becomes Largest in California History

Published in 10 September, 2020

  • Scores of large fires are burning in the three states.

  • The August Complex Fire has consumed more than 736 square miles.

  • Several of the victims have been people trying to escape the flames.

  • The fires are being driven by hot, dry and windy weather.

Historic wildfires raging across California, Oregon and Washington have killed at least eight people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced tens of thousands to evacuate.

Dangerous fire conditions are expected to continue.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the August Complex Fire in the Mendocino National Forest became the largest blaze in California history, according to Cal Fire. The fire has burned more than 736 square miles and is only 24% contained. It was started by lightning on Aug. 17. The August Complex Fire has pushed the Mendocino Complex Fire, which burned 717 square miles in 2018, to second largest.

A 1-year-old boy, Uriel Hyland, was among those killed in Washington state. He and his parents were severely burned as they tried to escape the Cold Springs Fire in Okanogan County, about 125 miles northeast of Seattle, KREM-TV reported.

Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said the family was found about 10 a.m. Wednesday on the banks of the Columbia River. Jacob Hyland, 31, and Jamie Hyland, 26, of Renton, Washington, were flown to a burn center in Seattle.

Three people have died in the wildfires in Oregon.

Wyatt Tofte, 12, and his grandmother Peggy Mosso were killed while fleeing the Santiam Creek Fire in Marion County, east of Salem, KATU-TV reported. They were found Wednesday afternoon in the family car along with the remains of their dog.

Officials on Wednesday recovered the body of one person near Ashland, where the Almeda Fire had started, Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said at a news conference, according to CNN.

In Northern California’s Butte County, three people were killed and several others were injured after being trapped by the Bear Fire, which is part of the North Complex Fire, KCRA-TV reported.

“Time and time again we have seen how dangerous wildfires can be. … So I ask that you please, please, please be prepared, maintain situational awareness and heed the warnings,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.

Honea did not provide details about the three deaths. Officials said 12 people have not been accounted for. Butte County was the site of the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people in the town of Paradise and burned 19,000 structures.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office said one person died in the Slater Fire, which has burned 187 square miles along California’s border with Oregon.

The three states are facing unprecedented wildfire seasons this year. California has at least 24 large fires burning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Oregon has 14 and Washington has 12; These numbers do not include scores of smaller fires.

“The low humidity, the high temperatures, the winds have all combined to stymie some of the most aggressive firefighting activities,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference late Wednesday.

“California, Oregon, Washington, we are all in the same soup of cataclysmic fire,” he added.

Here’s a look at some of the major fires raging in parts of the West.

Oregon
Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday at least 48 wildfires have burned about 500 square miles across Oregon since Monday night. Hundreds of people have been ordered to evacuate as the state faces the most extreme fire conditions in three decades, the Oregonian reported.

“We are not getting any relief from the weather conditions,” Brown said. “Winds continue to feed these fires and push them into our towns and cities.”

School districts across the state have canceled classes or postponed the reopening of schools because of the fires.

The Santiam and Lionshead fires have roared through 371 square miles in Marion and Linn counties. The town of Gates, on the border of the two counties, was nearly wiped out, residents said.

“This is a nightmare. It was my dream house and it’s gone,” Barb Mahlum told the Oregonian as she fled the flames.

In Jackson County in southern Oregon, Phoenix Mayor Chris Luz said the Almeda Fire had devastated his town of about 4,650 people.

“Many businesses have been burned down,” he said. “Certain neighborhoods, including my own, have been burned down. There are many, many, many homes that are gone.”

In nearby Talent, Oregon, city manager Sandra Spelliscy said she saw breathtaking destruction in the town of fewer than 6,500 people.

Doug and Laura McHaney and their family lost their home in the 2018 Carr Fire in Redding, California. On Wednesday, their new home in Ashland, Oregon, was destroyed by the Almeda Fire, according to the Statesman Journal.

“I’d say the pile of rubble is a little bit smaller than the last one,” Doug McHaney said.

All of Clackamas County is under some type of evacuation order because of at least four active wildfires. The Riverside Fire in the county has grown to more than 171 square miles.

Just north of Molalla, Oregon, Kyle and Kerina St. Claire were waiting for the order to leave their home.

“It’s sad. It’s a roller coaster of emotions,” Kerina told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “We haven’t had a lot of sleep, obviously the stress is high. I’m praying for protection.”

Washington
The wildfires have destroyed more than 120 homes and raged across more than 781 square miles in Washington, a spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday.

A fire destroyed at least eight homes in Graham, about 15 miles southeast of Tacoma.

On Wednesday, 70-year-old Darrell Herde picked through the wreckage of his burned house, the garage and his 1967 Chevrolet.

(WATCH: Bystanders Go Door to Door as Brush Fire Threatens Homes in Washington)

“Luckily, I had my wallet in my pocket,” the retired mill worker told the Seattle Times. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to tell the guys in the government who I was.”

He said he plans to rebuild.

“I’ve got this place paid for, I’m not going to leave it.”

The state’s two largest fires are burning in Okanogan County.

The Pearl Hill Fire, east of Bridgeport in Okanogan County, has grown to nearly 282 square miles and was about 10% contained.

The threat of the Cold Springs Fire, south of Omak, remains extreme, the Seattle Times reported. It has burned 255 square miles and is uncontained.

California
In Fresno County, where the Creek Fire has forced at least 30,000 people from their homes, an official said it could be weeks before they are allowed to return, CNN reported.

“It’s going to be probably a couple weeks, just be patient with us,” Sheriff’s Deputy Lieutenant Brandon Pursell said.

The Creek Fire has consumed more than 280 square miles and is 0% contained. It has destroyed 300 structures, including 60 single-family homes.

The North Complex Fire has burned across 394 square miles in the Plumas National Forest northeast of San Francisco. Hundreds or thousands of homes are thought to have been destroyed in the fire, the Associated Press reported.

About 20,000 people were under evacuation orders or warnings in Plumas, Yuba and Butte counties.

John Sykes managed to get out of the small hamlet of Berry Creek with his car and some clothes.

“The school is gone, the fire department’s gone, the bar’s gone, the laundromat’s gone, the general store’s gone,” Sykes told the Sacramento Bee, adding, “I’ll never go back.”

“I don’t want to see it,” he said. “That’s why I’m leaving. I never want to see California again.”

Because of the widespread fires, the U.S. Forest Service announced a temporary closure of all 18 national forests in the state.

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