Winds a worry as death toll reaches 35 from West Coast fires

AP

14th September, 2020 11:22:40 printer

Winds a worry as death toll reaches 35 from West Coast fires

Nearly all the dozens of people reported missing after a devastating blaze in southern Oregon have been accounted for, authorities said over the weekend as crews battled wildfires that have killed at least 35 from California to Washington state.

The flames up and down the West Coast have destroyed neighborhoods, leaving nothing but charred rubble and burned-out cars, forced tens of thousands to flee and cast a shroud of smoke that has given Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, some of the worst air quality in the world.

The smoke filled the air with an acrid metallic smell like pennies and spread to nearby states. While making it difficult to breathe, it helped firefighters by blocking the sun and turning the weather cooler as they tried to get a handle on the blazes, which were slowing in some places.

But warnings of low moisture and strong winds that could fan the flames added urgency to the battle. The so-called red flag warnings stretched from hard-hit southern Oregon to Northern California and extended through Monday evening.

Lexi Soulios, her husband and son were afraid they would have to evacuate for a second time because of the weather. They left their small southern Oregon town of Talent last week when they saw a “big, huge flow of dark smoke coming up,” then went past roadblocks Friday to pick through the charred ruins of their home.

While they are staying farther south in Ashland, known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, she said by text message that the forecast may mean they could be on the move again.

“So this isn’t over yet but we just had the car checked so we feel prepared,” Lexi Soulios wrote.

Authorities last week reported as many as 50 people could be missing after a wildfire in the Ashland area. But the Jackson County sheriff’s office said late Saturday that four people had died in the blaze and that the number of missing was down to one.

At least 10 people have been killed in the past week throughout Oregon. Officials have said more people are missing from other fires, and the number of fatalities is likely to rise, though they have not said how high the toll could go as they search. In California, 24 people have died, and one in Washington state. Thousands of homes and other buildings have burned.

Barbara Rose Bettison, 25, left her farm among the trees and fields of Eagle Creek, outside Portland, when a sheriff’s deputy knocked on her door Tuesday. They drove away on a road that became an ominous dividing line, with blue skies on one side and the other filled with black and brown smoke.

She took shelter at an Elks Lodge near Portland, where evacuees wrapped themselves in blankets and set up tents out back.

“It’s terrifying. We’ve never had any form of natural disaster,” she said.

 


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