West Coast Wildfires Prompt Evacuations for More Than 500K as Death Toll Rises to At Least 24
As the deadly wildfires continue to ravage the west coast, more than half a million people have been forced to evacuate their homes while at least 24 lives have been claimed in the devastation.
In California alone, a total of 28 major wildfires — including the August Complex Fire, Elkhorn Fire and North Complex fire — are burning through the state, according to Cal Fire.
The August Complex Fire, which was caused by lightning, has now become the largest fire in California's history and is only 25 percent contained since breaking out on Aug. 17, according to the United States Forest Service's InciWeb.
More than 14,800 firefighters are battling the deadly flames, which have caused at least 19 fatalities, destroyed more than 3,900 structures, fire officials said. Over 64,000 people were to evacuate, CNBC reported.
Cal Fire said over 3.1 million acres have burned in the state — an amount that is larger than Connecticut and 26 times higher than the acres burned in 2019 for the same time period, according to their latest report.
Up in Oregon, at least four people have died in the 37 uncontrollable blazes, Oregon Live reported.
Governor Kate Brown announced on Twitter Thursday that the fires had blazed through more than 900,000 acres in the state and over 80,000 residents had evacuated, but that number reached 500,000 (over 10 percent of Oregon's 4.2 million population) by Friday, according to USA Today.
In her tweet about the burned acreage, Brown explained, "To put that into perspective, over the last 10 years, an average of 500,000 acres burn in an entire year. We’ve seen nearly double that in 3 days."
Because five fires in Oregon covered more than 100,000 acres each, with a combined total of about 1 percent containment, Brown declared a statewide emergency on Tuesday — marking the first time she's done that for wildfires, according to Oregon Live.
Meanwhile, in Washington, at least 587,000 acres have been scorched and one death has been reported, according to The Seattle Times and USA Today. Evacuations for over a thousand people have been issued so far, according to Gov. Jay Inslee.
Inslee told NBC affiliate KHQ-TV that a majority of the devastation was in the small town of Malden, just 35 miles south of Spokane.
"We’ve had this trauma all over Washington," Inslee said while touring the town, according to the outlet. "But this is the place where the whole heart of the town was torn out."
On Thursday, in response to the disaster, the governor issued a proclamation to help families and individuals impacted by wildfires with cash assistance for immediate needs.
Part of the devastation in California was in Butte County, where the fire officials confirmed in a report that the North Complex Fire, formerly known as the Bear Fire, had killed 10 civilians.
According to ABC affiliate KRCR, officials discovered the remains of seven people on Thursday and said 16 others remain missing.
Family members of 16-year-old Josiah Williams told the outlet that his remains were found, though it is unclear whether he was part of the seven or the initial three that were confirmed dead.
His mom, Jessica Williams, later spoke to CBS affiliate KOVR, and said of Josiah, "He was alone, terrified and ran for his life… my son was a good, smart, caring young boy that died alone and it kills me thinking about what he was going through."
Other fatalities included at least two children in Oregon. Wyatt Tofte — believed to be 12 years old, according to The Statesman Journal — and his 71-year-old grandmother Peggy Mosso were reportedly killed in the Santiam Fire after it engulfed their home near Lyons, Oregon.
Also in Washington, a 1-year-old boy died in the Cold Springs Fire while trying to escape alongside his parents, The Spokesman-Review reported. Parents Jacob Hyland, 31, and Jamie Hyland, 26, were found by a search and rescue team along the banks of the Columbia River with severe burns and were airlifted to a hospital in Seattle in critical condition, according to the outlet.
"The death of a 1-year-old boy doesn’t even compare to when we reach our adulthood and we have choices to be places," Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley reportedly said. "To even be talking about the death of a 1-year-old is just devastating."
A GoFundMe page for the family has so far raised more than $179,959.
As the blazes continued to burn, an apocalyptic, red and orange glow emerged in skies near the Bay Area, bringing with it ash that rained down on residents.
The west coast has also received assistance from firefighters in Texas, Colorado and Utah, but despite that, many fires still aren't contained and continue to create polluted air with dangerous toxins, according to CNBC.
"Every firefighting entity in Washington state would like to have more resources right now," Inslee said, with Brown adding, "We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state. We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change."
To help communities facing destructive wildfires in the Western U.S., consider donating to the following organizations:
• The American Red Cross allows donors to direct funds to support people impacted by the fires.
• GlobalGiving’s Wildfire Relief offers emergency funding to local efforts providing essentials to wildfire victims in need.
• GoFundMe’s California Wildfire Relief Fund aims to “support a range of needs” by issuing “grants to individuals, organizations and communities that have either been impacted themselves or are dedicated to helping."
• The California Fire Foundation “provides emotional and financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters, firefighters and the communities they protect."