Dozens of people missing in Oregon wildfires

A person walks past gutted homes in the Medford Estates neighborhood in the aftermath of the Almeda fireImage copyright

Dozens of people are missing in Oregon as wildfires continue to rage across the western US, state Governor Kate Brown has said.

Tens of thousands of people in Oregon alone have been displaced by the deadly infernos.

Wildfires have killed at least four in Oregon and 11 elsewhere. More than 100 blazes, fanned by hot, dry winds, are currently scorching 12 states.

Federal emergency aid has been approved for Oregon to help battle the fires.

“Many Oregonians are suffering right now, whether displaced themselves or worried about their families and communities while watching our beautiful state burn,” Gov Brown told reporters on Friday.

“As of now, there are early reports from our state police that there are dozens of missing persons related to the fires specifically in Jackson, Lane and Marion counties.”

She did not offer further details on the missing persons.

The governor also clarified that fewer than 100,000 Oregonians had been told to leave their homes.

State officials said a day earlier that half a million people were under evacuation orders.

But Ms Brown said on Friday the higher figure included those who remained at home but had been advised to be ready to evacuate.

Ms Brown also implored residents who have evacuated to keep out of fire zones despite rumours of thieves and damage.

“I know that rumours of looting are extremely alarming and that it’s unsettling not to know whether your home is still standing.

“Let me assure you that we have the Oregon National Guard and Oregon State Police monitoring the situation and preventing looting.”

She added that people who tried to return to their homes were putting their own lives, as well as those of firefighters and first responders, at risk.

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Media captionDrone footage shows homes completely wiped out by wildfires

The governor noted that federal aid had been approved, which will help provide additional support in fighting the fires and caring for those displaced.

Along with Oregon, California and Washington state are the worst affected states.

Entire towns have been destroyed in this region and around 4.4m acres – an area slightly smaller than Wales – have been burned, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

At least one blaze in Oregon is being treated as suspected arson.

While natural factors such as strong winds have helped the spread of these massive fires, the underlying heating of the climate from human activities is making these conflagrations bigger and more explosive.

Nine of the world’s 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, and the UN warned this week that the five years from 2016 until this year will very likely be the hottest such period yet recorded. Both Oregon and California have warmed by more than 1C since 1900.

The sustained warmth has seen six of the 20 largest fires on record in California all occur this year. In Oregon, the spate of fires has burned nearly twice the average annual losses in just the past week.

In California, a prolonged drought over the past decade has killed millions of trees, turning them into potent fuel for the fires. Mountain regions that are normally cooler and wetter have dried out more rapidly in the summer, adding to the potential fuel load.

Climate scientists had forecast that western wildfires would grow in size, scale and impact – but their predictions are coming to fruition faster than expected.

The victims in Oregon include a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother, who died in a wildfire near Lyons, 70 miles (110km) south of Portland.

Wyatt Tofte, his dog, and his grandmother Peggy Mosso died in the family car trying to escape the blaze. The child’s mother was severely burnt.

Lonnie Bertalotto, Ms Mosso’s son and Wyatt’s uncle, confirmed the deaths in a Facebook post. “Don’t take anything in life for granted and make the best of everyday,” he wrote.

Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office, told Reuters news agency: “Every fire is investigated for the possibility of arson so that we can either determine it is or rule it out.”

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Image caption

An infrared image shows destroyed homes in Phoenix, Oregon: burned vegetation and property appear grey, surviving vegetation is in red

One of the most destructive blazes, the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland near the California border, is being treated as suspicious. It has been linked to at least two deaths and destroyed hundreds of homes in the towns of Phoenix and Talent.

The wildfires have also prompted mass evacuations in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon’s largest city.

What is the situation elsewhere?

In Washington state, a one-year-old boy died and his parents were in a critical condition as they tried to escape the state’s largest wildfire, in the northern county of Okanogan.

A fire also destroyed most homes in the eastern town of Malden.

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Media captionFive ways that show the scale of California’s 2020 wildfires

In California, authorities in Butte County north of Sacramento have found 10 bodies in the last two days, and there are fears the toll will rise as 16 people remain unaccounted for.

There, some 64,000 people were under evacuation orders while 14,000 firefighters battled 29 major fires.

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