California, Oregon and Washington State Fires: Live Updates and Maps – The New York Times

California, Oregon and Washington State Fires: Live Updates and Maps  The New York TimesView Full Coverage on Google News

U.S.|Wildfires Live Updates: ‘It Is Apocalyptic,’ Senator Says of Destruction

At least 24 people have died in the fires. In Oregon, which has taken the biggest blow in the last few days, officials have warned that the toll could climb.

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Severe air pollution that has left people across the West Coast with sore throats and stinging eyes also temporarily broke the data systems that monitor air quality in Washington State.


More than 20 people have died in massive fires spreading through parts of California, Oregon and Washington.CreditCredit…Adrees Latif/Reuters

Anguish and fear grip the West Coast as ash darkens a broad swath of the region.

Exhausted fire crews worked on Sunday to beat back raging wildfires that have scorched millions of acres across three Western states and displaced thousands of people, with entire communities swallowed by flames.

At least 24 people have died in the fires, and in Oregon, which has taken the biggest blow in the last few days, officials have warned that the toll could climb. Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said state officials were bracing for the possibility of a “mass fatality incident.”

The fires have plunged the region into anguish and fear, as fairgrounds have morphed into places of refuge for the many who have been forced from their homes, and air thickened by smoke and ash has darkened the skies over a broad swath of the West Coast.

“It is apocalyptic,” Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, said Sunday on the ABC program “This Week.” “I drove 600 miles up and down the state, and I never escaped the smoke. We have thousands of people who have lost their homes. I could have never envisioned this.”

It isn’t over yet. The National Weather Service on Sunday issued a “red flag warning,” with the prospect that windy and dry weather forecast for southern Oregon and nearby counties in California could reverse the significant progress made by firefighters over the past several days.

Some areas could see gusts as high as 40 miles an hour, and forecasters said the winds would “likely contribute to a significant spread of new and existing fires.”

The blazes in Oregon have already consumed more than one million acres and forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes, in addition to the record-setting 3.1 million acres burned in California and more than 600,000 acres burned in Washington State.

One fire alone, the August Complex, had burned more than 877,000 acres as of Sunday.

Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon said it was clear that the intensity of the wildfires was fueled by a “perfect firestorm” of conditions, including rapid wind speeds, high temperatures and decades of drought. In most years over the past decade, roughly 500,000 acres burned, yet this week alone, she said, more than one million acres had burned in the state.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us,” she said.

California, Oregon and Washington Fire and Air Quality Maps

Where major fires are burning in the Western states and how unhealthy air quality has become.

President Trump is scheduled to visit McClellan Park, Calif., on Monday. He acknowledged the severity of the fires spanning the entire coast. “I spoke to the folks in Oregon, Washington,” he said late Saturday. “They’ve never had anything like this.”

Mr. Trump cited lack of forest management as a driving force behind the fires, which drew sharp rebukes from officials on the West Coast for the president’s failure to acknowledge the critical role of climate change.

“This is not just about forest management or raking,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles on the CNN program “State of the Union,” adding, “Anybody who lives here in California is insulted by that, quite frankly, and he keeps perpetuating this lie.”

Southern Oregon has been devastated, but there may be more fires yet to come.

The Almeda Fire was perhaps this year’s most catastrophic inferno, wreaking destruction along Interstate 5, the West Coast’s main north-south highway, Credit…Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

In southern Oregon, where one of this year’s most destructive blazes swept through last week, authorities were on alert Sunday afternoon for high winds and dry conditions that could reverse the significant progress that fire and emergency crews had made over the past several days.

The National Weather Service issued a warning from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time on Sunday that wind gusts of up to 25 miles an hour, with humidity below 10 percent, “will likely contribute to a significant spread of new and existing fires” in the region.

In the upper Rogue Valley north of Medford, Ore., firefighters continued to battle the South Obenchain Fire, which had already burned 30,500 acres, most of it wilderness, and destroyed 26 homes, said Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal. The fire was about 20 percent contained and still threatening Butte Falls, a rural town of about 450 people, he said. Crews were in place to try to stop any spread from accelerating winds on Sunday afternoon.

About 20 miles south, crews were working to secure the burned areas from the Almeda Fire, which scorched about a tenth of the land of the South Obenchain Fire but was still perhaps this year’s most catastrophic inferno. That’s because it traveled along Interstate 5, the West Coast’s main north-south highway, from the city of Ashland, Ore., and through the small towns of Phoenix and Talent on Tuesday.

The fire was now 60 percent contained, Mr. Tyler said, but crews had to clean up hazards such as open gas lines, downed power lines and sinkholes over 40 percent of the burned area. Still, Mr. Tyler warned that the winds could reignite some flames on Sunday, though firefighters would be watching the area closely.

A hazardous-materials team entered Phoenix and Talent on Sunday to start the long clean up of the burned mobile-home parks and businesses lining Highway 99, Mr. Tyler said. Urban search-and-rescue teams from Utah and Nevada were also about to begin assessing each building in the burned area to measure the damage and search for human remains, he said.

On Saturday, authorities raised the death count of the Almeda Fire to four people from two, with one person still missing. State officials estimate that the fire destroyed 600 residences and 200 businesses in Phoenix and Talent, but local officials in those towns said the numbers were likely much higher, with possibly thousands of homes lost.

Severe air pollution broke Washington’s data-monitoring systems.

Smoke from wildfires covers the skyline of Seattle, Wash., on Saturday.Credit…Karen Ducey/Reuters

Severe air pollution that has left people across the West Coast with sore throats and stinging eyes also temporarily broke the data systems that monitor air quality in Washington State.

Andy Wineke, a spokesman for the Washington Department of Ecology, said on Sunday that seven or eight monitoring points stopped producing data in recent days because automated quality-control systems rejected the high readings as unreliable.

“There’s some trigger in the quality-control check that said the sustained readings were high,” Mr. Wineke said. Officials were working to update the system to accept the data, so it could be published on the state’s air-monitoring maps.

The thick smoke has at times given cities an apocalyptic feel up and down the West Coast, blotting out the sun in some areas and raining ash in others. Cities from San Francisco to Seattle have recorded some of the highest air pollution readings on the planet over the last week.

Portland, Ore., Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles dominated the top 10 spots in a list of global cities with harmful air quality and pollution, according to IQAir, an air quality technology company based in Switzerland.

Morning readings across Washington State were “mostly very unhealthy to hazardous,” the National Weather Service Seattle announced on social media on Sunday. “Not much improvement in the smoke today,” it tweeted at about 10 a.m. local time.

In Oregon, the Weather Service warned that there was dense fog and smoke contributing to low visibility. In Portland, a number of people reported that they could see only far as 50 feet in some places, the Weather Service wrote on social media at around 9 a.m. local time.

“It’s as bad as a place can be,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, a Multnomah County Health officer. Portland is in Multnomah County.

Health systems that are already strained because of the coronavirus are now dealing with an increase of people with asthma symptoms related to wildfire smoke, Dr. Vines said on Sunday. Those most vulnerable to respiratory distress are also those most at risk for the coronavirus, Dr. Vines added.

In places where air quality was considered very unhealthy or hazardous, officials encouraged everyone to remain indoors with windows closed. They asked people with heart and lung disease to consult health care providers, and suggested the possibility of leaving the area or wearing respirators if they must be outside.

Experts said it is especially important to avoid cigarettes when the air is bad. They also advised avoiding strenuous outdoor activities. When outside, well-fitting N95 masks were also recommended, though they were in short supply because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s just an unfortunate overlap,” Dr. Vines said of the confluence of the virus and the fires.

Some forecasters are hopeful that shifts in winds and weather could begin clearing out some of the smoke and improving conditions by Monday. There may be some relief later in the week for portions of Oregon and Washington as winds push the smoke to the east, bringing smoke to Montana, Idaho and even Canada, said Marc Austin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pendleton, Ore.

Storm systems could also move in and mix the air, pulling up the smoke from the ground and dispersing it near the atmosphere, Mr. Austin added.

“We have to go day by day,” Dr. Vines said about the smoke conditions throughout the week. “It’s very difficult to forecast even a day ahead.”

At least 24 people have died in recent blazes along the West Coast.

They lived more than 500 miles from each other — one in the wooded foothills of the Sierra Nevada, northeast of California’s capital, Sacramento, the other in a thickly forested canyon east of Oregon’s capital, Salem.

Josiah Williams, 16.

Wyatt Tofte, 13.

They were young lives cut short, victims of the great western wildfires of 2020.

The arrival of fire season in the American West always brings fear of fatalities, especially among the elderly and infirm, unable to escape the flames.

But the deaths of Josiah and Wyatt, two athletic teenagers, speak to the speed and the ferocity of the fires that this year have burned a record number of acres, four million in California and Oregon combined.

With thick smoke blanketing large parts of Washington, Oregon and California and tens of thousands of people evacuated, the fires have been the worst in decades, exacerbated by climate change. By Saturday, fires in California had burned 26 times more territory than they had at the same time last year.

Across the West this weekend, law enforcement authorities were scouring incinerated communities for missing persons. At least 24 people have died in the fires, with dozens more missing and peak fire season only beginning in many parts of the West.

Democrats cite climate change for fires, disagreeing with Trump.

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said the wildfires were the “consequences of a warming planet that have huge impacts on rural America, with our forests, with our farming, with our fishing.” Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Democratic lawmakers and state governors on the West Coast pushed back on Sunday against President Trump’s dismissal of the deadly wildfires devastating their states. Mr. Trump blamed the fires on poor leadership and “mismanagement” of forests.

In mentioning the wildfires, Mr. Trump has routinely accused the state of California of forest mismanagement, a claim he repeated on Saturday night in Nevada.

On Sunday, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Governors Jay Inslee of Washington and Kate Brown of Oregon and Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles appeared on news shows saying that the fires demonstrate a failure to tackle the effects of climate change.

“These are consequences of a warming planet that have huge impacts on rural America, with our forests, with our farming, with our fishing,” Mr. Merkley said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This should not be blue or red. This should not be rural or urban. This is devastating to everyone.”

Governor Brown, in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” conceded that forest mismanagement was a factor that had contributed to the wildfires, but argued that Republicans have not been interested in addressing that either.

“It’s decades of mismanagement of our forests in this country, and it is the failure to tackle climate change. We need to do both,” Governor Brown said, adding that she had previously proposed more investment in fire management but, “unfortunately, the Republicans walked away from the legislative session and we were unable to get that done.”

Governor Inslee directly framed the crisis as an electoral issue in his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and urged Americans to get out “and vote on climate.”

“The time for excuses, for denial, for downplaying this, those days are over,” Mr. Inslee said. “The days of consequence are upon us.”

The Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., also weighed in, saying in a statement that “the science is clear, and deadly signs like these are unmistakable — climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life.”

Jerry Brown, California’s former governor, who made climate change his signature issue, was more directly critical of President Trump in a telephone interview on Sunday.

“He’s doing real damage to generate more carbon emissions,” Mr. Brown said. “By his inactions, he is encouraging other people to do the same thing. So as an historic figure, he is one of the most culpable men in America contributing to the suffering and death that is now occurring through climate-related tragedy.”

But the former governor was cautious not to place blame on the Trump administration for what California during the current fire season.

“While he has exacerbated climate change, he hasn’t been there long enough to do enough damage that it would show up in California,” Mr. Brown said.

Zoom will offer relief after a California school is consumed by flames.

The burned remains of Berry Creek Elementary School in Berry Creek, Calif., on Saturday.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Ash fell from an apocalyptic orange sky as Jennifer Willin drove home last week from the only school in tiny Berry Creek, Calif., where she had picked up a pair of Wi-Fi hot spots for her daughters’ remote classes. Hours later, her cellphone erupted with an emergency alert: Evacuate immediately.

By the next morning, what one official described as a “massive wall of fire” had swept through the entire Northern California town of about 1,200 people, killing nine residents and destroying the school and almost every home and business.

Ms. Willin and her family escaped to a cramped hotel room 60 miles away. In her panic, she had forgotten to grab masks, but she had the hot spots, along with her daughters’ laptops and school books. On Monday, the two girls plan to meet with their teachers on Zoom, seeking some comfort amid the chaos.

Amid twin disasters, the remote learning preparations that schools made for the coronavirus crisis are providing a strange modicum of stability for teachers and students, letting many stay connected and take comfort in an unexpected form of virtual community.

“They’re still able to be in school,” Ms. Willin said, “even though the school burned to the ground.”

Climate change is a real and urgent threat in California.

Scorched land left behind by the Bear Fire in Feather Falls, Calif., on Thursday.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Multiple mega fires burning millions of acres. Millions of residents smothered in toxic air. Rolling blackouts and triple-digit heat waves. Climate change, in the words of one scientist, is smacking California in the face.

The crisis in the nation’s most populous state is more than just an accumulation of individual catastrophes. It is also an example of something climate experts have long worried about, but which few expected to see so soon: a cascade effect, in which a series of disasters overlap, triggering or amplifying each other.

“You’re toppling dominoes in ways that Americans haven’t imagined,” said Roy Wright, who directed resilience programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 2018 and grew up in Vacaville, Calif., near one of this year’s largest fires. “It’s apocalyptic.”

The same could be said for the entire West Coast last week, to Washington and Oregon, where towns were decimated by infernos as firefighters were stretched to their limits.

California’s simultaneous crises illustrate how the ripple effect works. A scorching summer led to dry conditions never before experienced. That aridity helped make the season’s wildfires the biggest ever recorded. Six of the 20 largest wildfires in modern California history have occurred this year.

If climate change was a somewhat abstract notion a decade ago, today it is all too real for Californians. The intensely hot wildfires are not only chasing thousands of people from their homes but causing dangerous chemicals to leach into drinking water. Excessive heat warnings and suffocating smoky air have threatened the health of people already struggling during the pandemic. And the threat of more wildfires has led insurance companies to cancel homeowner policies and the state’s main utility to shut off power to tens of thousands of people pre-emptively.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Chris Cameron, Thomas Fuller, Dan Levin Christina Morales, Adam Nagourney, Rick Rojas, Kate Taylor and Lucy Tompkins.