Hundreds of Thousands of Acres Are Burning in Oregon, California, and Washington

September 9, 2020 Updated: September 11, 2020

More than 85 fires are burning across the West Coast in an unprecedented event that’s already scorched hundreds of thousands of acres.

In California, at least 25 wildfires are now raging after powerful winds and an extreme heatwave over the weekend.

“We have fires burning in the north part of the state all the way down to the Mexican border, about 800 miles between the furthest distant fires, so we’re stretched across the landscape,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter told CNN.

In Oregon, thousands of residents evacuated their homes in efforts to escape the flames that have already scorched more than 230,000 acres. Gov. Kate Brown approved an emergency conflagration declaration Tuesday for three fires burning across the state to help get more resources to local responders.

“This is definitely a once-in-a-generation event,” Brown said during a news conference.

In Washington state, more acres were burned Monday than have been burned in the past 12 fire seasons, Gov. Jay Inslee said, and continuing dry conditions are fueling the blazes. At least 100,000 people were out of power across the state Tuesday. And in one eastern Washington town, flames destroyed more than 80 percent of homes and public infrastructure.

A table stands outside the destroyed at Cressman's General Store
A table stands outside the destroyed at Cressman’s General Store after the Creek Fire burned through Fresno County, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2020. (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

“I just can’t reiterate,” the governor said, “we think almost all of these fires were human-caused, in some dimension. If you can avoid being outside for anything that would even cause a spark, I hope people can avoid those conditions.”

“This is a new reality we’re living in with a changing climate,” he added.

Size of Central Park Burned Every Half Hour

The dozens of fires burning across California have charred a record-breaking 2.2 million acres across the state, and the fire season has another 4 months left, Cal Fire said Tuesday.

The Creek Fire, racing through the mountains of Central California in Fresno County, has destroyed at least 360 structures since the flames erupted Friday evening. The fire has burned through more than 152,000 acres and is 0 percent contained—and, according to Cal Fire, strong forecast winds Wednesday will likely impact the flames. Since it began, the fire has burned an area roughly the size of Central Park every 30 minutes over the past several days.

“We have 150 million trees that died in the southern Sierra several years ago, and those are fueling the Creek Fire, which is the biggest and most concerning fire to us right now,” Porter said.

California National Guard Col. David Hall told CNN about 385 people and 27 animals were rescued by helicopter after getting trapped in the Sierra National Forest. At least 30,000 people have been evacuated, Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputy Lieutenant Brandon Pursell said late Tuesday.

A sign hangs in front of a property along Highway 168
A sign hangs in front of a property along Highway 168 after the Creek Fire burned though Fresno County, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2020. (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

Meanwhile in San Bernardino County, the El Dorado Fire has grown to more than 11,000 acres and is 19 percent contained, fire officials said.

The fire, sparked by a gender reveal party, was caused by a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” used at a party on Saturday morning in El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire investigators determined.

‘Urgent and Scary to Get Out’

The governor said Oregon has experienced “historic wildfires” almost every year in her time in office. But this year’s fires are “unprecedented,” Brown said.

“In some areas, the situation is so difficult and dangerous that even firefighters are being evacuated,” the governor told reporters.

At least seven large fires burned Tuesday across the state, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Clackamas County, in northwestern Oregon, declared a state of emergency Tuesday as a response to several wildfires that prompted evacuations. Across the county, more than a dozen Level 3—”Go! Evacuate now!”—evacuations were in place, with several other areas ordered to be ready for evacuations, officials said.

In neighboring Marion County—home to the state’s capital city—another state of emergency was declared Tuesday, with residents across the region forced out of their homes by fires.

One family told CNN affiliate KPTV they had a brief notice to leave their home as nearby flames moved in.

“We drove under a tree that had fallen over and there was burning limbs and it was like urgent and scary to get out,” Sabrina Kent told the news station.

A local man runs a tractor to carve out an impromptu fire line
A local man runs a tractor to carve out an impromptu fire line as the Pearl Hill fire moves closer to Mansfield, Wash., on Sept. 8, 2020. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review via AP)

The family is staying in an RV near a local grocery store, according to the affiliate, as they map out their next steps.

“This is the most messed up year, can we just fast forward?” Kent told KPTV.

Oregon’s corrections department announced Tuesday they evacuated three Salem prisons following threats from the Beachie Creek and Lionshead wildfires.

A Charred Washington State Town

In Malden, Washington state, about 80 percent of the town’s homes and public infrastructure were destroyed, including the fire station, post office, city hall, and library, authorities said.

“The scale of this disaster really can’t be expressed in words,” Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said.

Fires have already burned through more than 330,000 acres in the state, according to the governor.

Further west, in Graham, a fire that ripped through the area left what residents described as a “war zone,” according to CNN affiliate KOMO. Some lost everything.

At least six houses and three shops were destroyed, according to the news station, along with sheds, equipment, and vehicles. The fire department issued evacuation orders for about 100 residents, the station reported.

“It’s devastating for the people who live here for sure, and to me, and my heart. This fire came [through] hot and fast,” Graham Fire and Rescue’s Assistant Fire Chief Steve Richards told the affiliate. “It was a firestorm it pushed right through.”

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