US officials prepare for 'mass fatality event' in Oregon as fires rage in several states

12 September 2020, 14:52 | Updated: 12 September 2020, 14:55

Wildfires have been sweeping the west coast of the US for days
Wildfires have been sweeping the west coast of the US for days. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Officials in Oregon are “preparing for a mass fatality event” with dozens of people missing, as massive wildfires burn across 12 US states.

Thousands of structures have been destroyed in Oregon and at least eight fatalities reported so far, but officials have yet to release an exact death count.

LBC’s correspondent in Oregon, Jason Wilson, explained: “Up in the mountain towns, in the canyons, in rural hamlets, there are going to be people who unfortunately have perished who have just not been discovered yet.”

Governor Kate Brown said at least 40,000 people have been evacuated and 500,000 have been told to leave, or are preparing to do so.

Improved weather has helped efforts to fight the fires, after days of high winds, heat and low humidity had fanned flames over more than 1,500 square miles.

But hundreds of firefighters continue to battle two large blazes that are threatening to merge near the suburbs of Portland, the most populated part of the state.

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Portland Monday to Friday

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News anchor Laural Porter told LBC inner-city residents of Portland were already affected: “Our biggest threat right now is just choking smoke. You have never seen anything like it, now our air quality in Portland is considered the worst in the world.

“It has blocked out the sun for a couple of days, you can’t go outside. It is like a ghost town outside because everyone is staying inside.”

Meanwhile, in California, nine people, including a 16-year-old boy, have been confirmed dead in the state’s deadliest blaze this year. 19 people also remain unaccounted for.

Nearly 15,000 firefighters are working across the state, with fire crews bulldozing trees in an attempt to create fire breaks to control a fire which has already largely destroyed Berry Creek, a hamlet northeast of San Francisco.

Apocalyptic scenes of smoke blocking out the sun in San Francisco have been shared widely on social media, after winds whipped up the flames.

A one-year-old boy was killed in wildfires in Washington, where state governor Jay Inslee noted the amount of land burned in just the past five days amounted to the state's second-worst fire season, after 2015.

"This is not an act of God," Govornor Inslee said, "this has happened because we have changed the climate."