The authorities fear bad things: Rapidly spreading wildfires have devastated large areas on the west coast of the US. 26 people died, but the number could be significantly higher.
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At least 26 people died in California, Oregon and Washington, the newspaper “USA Today” and the American broadcaster CNN reported Friday evening (local time). Authorities fear many more deaths.
Tens of thousands of people have fled the flames in Oregon, where the fire is currently particularly severe, according to authorities. There, dozens of people were missing.
Dozens of states have been affected
According to the federal agency National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires are raging in a dozen states in the western United States, including Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado and Idaho. Nearly 28,000 firefighters and other emergency services fought the flames in the affected area. More than 200 soldiers also helped fight one of the hot spots in California. According to doctors, air quality in the West has reached levels that are harmful to health, according to CNN. This could make people more susceptible to the coronavirus.
California fire department Cal Fire confirmed 20 deaths on its website for the “Golden State” on Friday. According to USA Today, there were five more deaths in the northern neighboring state of Oregon and one in Washington.
Numerous fires in Oregon
In Oregon, numerous major fires were “extreme,” some of which spread over large areas, according to the National Interagency Fire Center website. In the state, 40,000 residents had to leave their homes, Oregon governor Kate Brown said Friday. 500,000 people have been ordered to prepare for possible evacuations. According to Brown, more than 4,000 square kilometers of land is on fire.
The full extent of the destruction is not yet known, said Andrew Phelps of the civil defense service. Many fatalities would be feared, he added. In recent days, authorities had only killed four as a result of the wildfires, the portal Oregonlive.com reported. According to Fire Chief Doug Grafe, emergency teams are currently fighting 16 major fires in Oregon. After a heat wave with strong winds, it is now cooler with decreasing wind. That would help with the extinguishing work, Grafe said.
About 15,000 firefighters are on duty
In the state of California, which borders Oregon to the south, more than 14,800 firefighters were employed on 28 larger fires on Friday. In a fire zone in Butte County, just under 300 miles north of San Francisco, 19 people were reported missing on Friday night. The number of deaths could rise. The smoldering remains are still too hot in many places to thoroughly search the areas, Sheriff Kory Honea said.
“We are in a climate crisis,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said Friday during a visit to the burned-out forests near the village of Oroville. Many scientists would have predicted this development years ago. The Democrat called for a stronger fight against climate change.
Experts say climate change is exacerbating drought, heat and extreme weather events, which contribute to more violent forest fires. 100 major fires currently raging in the western United States have already burned more than 4.5 million acres (more than 18,210 square miles), the National Interagency Fire Center continues. Much of it affects California. This year alone, Cal Fire has already burned a record area of more than 12,700 square kilometers of land. Six of the current fires are among the 20 largest in California history since registration in 1930.