Over 500,000 flee ‘unprecedented ‘ US wildfires


More than half a million people in the US state of Oregon are fleeing deadly wildfires that are raging across the Pacific Northwest, authorities say.
Fanned by unusually hot, dry winds, dozens of infernos are sweeping the state, and at least one is being treated as suspected arson, BBC reports.
Governor Kate Brown said the exact number of fatalities is not yet known, though at least three are confirmed.
More than 100 wildfires are currently scorching 12 western US states.
Oregon, California and Washington have borne the brunt of the wildfires, which have in several cases destroyed entire towns.
Some 4.4 million acres have been razed, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office, told the New York Times : “When you have a fire that burns through homes and businesses, you have open gas lines that are still spewing out natural gas, and those are burning.”
On Thursday evening, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management confirmed the latest evacuation figures, which amount to more than 10% of the state’s 4.2 million population.
Governor Brown, a Democrat, said in a news conference on Thursday: “We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state.”
Among the evacuees are more than 1,300 mostly female prisoners from the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville.
The prison is under threat from two large wildfires that authorities believe could be about to merge.
Among the victims in Oregon are a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother, who died in a wildfire near Lyons, 70 miles (112km) south of Portland.
One of the most destructive Oregon blazes, the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland near the border with California, is being treated by police as suspicious.
The Almeda Fire has been linked to at least two deaths and destroyed hundreds of homes in the towns of Phoenix and Talent.
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said: “We have good reason to believe that there was a human element to it.”
But rumours that fires in the Douglas County area were started by members of the left-wing “anti-fascist” or right-wing Proud Boys groups have been discounted by police.
The Oregon wildfires have also prompted mass evacuations in the suburbs of Portland.
According to the Portland Tribune newspaper , the pollution in the city on Thursday was ranked highest in the world, above Jakarta, Indonesia; Delhi, India; and Lahore, Pakistan.

What is the situation elsewhere?

In Washington state, a one-year-old boy died and his parents were in a critical condition after smoke and flames overwhelmed them as they tried to escape the state’s largest wildfire, said officials in the northern county of Okanogan.
A wildfire also destroyed most of the homes in the old railroad town of Malden, in the east of the state. Police had run through the streets shouting at residents to flee for their lives as the flames closed in.
Another four people have died in the past two days from wildfires in California. There, some 64,000 people were under evacuation orders while 14,000 firefighters battle 29 major fires.
Six of the top 20 largest fires in the state’s history have occurred this year.


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