Death toll jumps to 15 as record wildfires continue raging in California, Oregon, and Washington, U.S.


At least 15 people have been killed in record-breaking wildfires burning through the western U.S. as of Friday, September 11, 2020, with California, Oregon, and Washington bearing the brunt of the blazes. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), there are 102 active large fires burning across over 1.6 million ha (4.3 million acres) of land.

There are 24 massive fires reported in California, 16 each in Washington and Oregon, 11 in Idaho, 9 in Montana, 7 in Arizona, 6 in Colorado, 5 in Utah, 4 in Alaska, 2 in Wyoming, and 1 each in Nevada and New Mexico.

Authorities retrieved seven bodies in Northern California on Thursday, September 10, raising the total number of fatalities in the state to 10. However, authorities feat the death toll in the state will rise as there are 16 people still missing.

The August Complex Fire– one of the blazes in the area– is now considered the largest in the state's history, according to Cal Fire.

It has so far devoured over 190 000 ha (470 000 acres) of land and has only been 24 percent contained since it was triggered by lightning in mid-August.

"It was terrifying," resident Nancy Hamilton told CNN. "It was a beast. The thing is a beast." She added she drove through the area to take a closer look at the destruction, and people were devastated by their losses.

In central California, the Creek Fire has consumed more than 350 structures and has exploded to more than 70 000 ha (176 000 acres), which remains totally uncontained.

About 30 000 people have been evacuated in the area, and Fresno County Sheriff's deputy Lt. Brandon Pursell said the process of residents returning to their houses would be lengthy. "It's going to be probably a couple of weeks, just be patient with us."

Statewide, more than 1 million ha (2.5 million acres) of land has been scorched, exceeding the all-time record of 793 180 ha (1.96 million acres) set in 2018. 


Dense smoke covering the West Coast on September 10, with an extension of about 1 700 km (1 000 miles) over the Pacific. NASA Terra/MODIS, Antonio Vecoli

At least five deaths were reported in Washington state and Oregon, bringing the overall death toll to 15. Three of the victims in Oregon were in Marion County, one in Jackson County, and another in Washington state's Cold Springs Fire.

The total extent of damages is yet to be identified as the wildfires keep raging. Marion County Sherriff Joe Kast said he fears that the death toll may further increase as search operations continue. "We also fear that this is not going to be the only folks we'll find deceased up there."

More than 360 000 ha (900 000 acres) have been burned across Oregon, according to the office of emergency management. "We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state," said Governor Kate Brown.

Image credit: NOAA/GOES-17. Acquired 00:40 UTC on September 11, 2020

Around half a million people have already been forced to flee their homes by Friday– these numbers are more than 10 percent of the state's 4.2 million people, and the figures keep growing.

In Washington, more than 240 000 ha (600 000 acres) have been reduced to ashes in the past days, which is more than any single year in the state's history, said governor Jay Inslee, who called the blazes "cataclysmic".

According to the US Forest Service, the blazes have been fueled by high winds and dry conditions, and were "fed by a series of small fires largely caused by downed power lines and other ignition sources throughout the area."

Featured image credit: Forest Service NW

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