Wildfires continued to wreak havoc along the US west coast on Thursday as firefighters battled about 100 major blazes that have so far claimed the lives of at least seven people, authorities said.
Oregon, California and Washington state have all been heavily affected by what is already a record-breaking year, even before what is regarded as “peak” fire season in the region.
Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area awoke to a second day of eerie skies created by smoke and ash mixing with cooler air from the Pacific Ocean, which in effect blocked sunlight all day on Wednesday. Thursday morning brought slightly brighter skies but worsening, choking air quality. Local meteorologists said the freak conditions would last into the weekend.
Across California, more than 2.3m acres have now burnt — by far surpassing the 1.9m burnt during the course of 2018’s deadly season — with still more than a month of the state’s typical fire season remaining. The earlier fires were created by lighting storms last month.
The largest, the August Complex Fire in the Mendocino National Forest, began as 37 different fires before combining to cover more than 400,000 acres, the second largest wildfire in the state’s history. It is around 25 per cent contained.
A number of evacuation orders are in place, including for 20,000 residents who were warned to leave Butte County, where the town of Paradise suffered 85 fatalities in 2018 when a ferocious blaze cut off escape routes in what was the deadliest and most damaging fire in California’s history.
All 18 of California’s national forests have now been closed because of the “unprecedented and historic fire conditions throughout the state”, officials said.
In Oregon, governor Kate Brown told residents to brace themselves for “the greatest loss of human life and property due to wildfire in our state’s history” when ordering evacuations in areas across the state.
At least five towns have been destroyed in the Cascade mountain range region, Reuters reported, in areas left unusually dry because of recent heatwaves. High winds of up to 50 miles per hour fuelled the fires’ rapid spread.
Smoke and ash mixing with cooler air from the Pacific Ocean in effect blocked sunlight all day on Wednesday
Butte county firefighters watch as flames tower over their truck in Oroville, California on Wednesday
A man walks along the Redwood highway by the Pacific Ocean coast as smoke from wildfires covers an area near Orick, California
The Bay Bridge is seen under an orange sky darkened by the smoke in San Francisco
Firefighters cut defensive lines and light backfires to protect structures behind a CalFire fire station
A melted slide smoulders as a playground continues to burn at Pine Ridge school in an unincorporated area of Fresno County on Tuesday
The remains of Berry Creek Elementary school continue to burn after a fire rages through Berry Creek
Inmate firefighters rest in Butte County on Wednesday
The San Francisco skyline is obscured in orange smoke and haze
Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville in Oroville
Picture editing by Annabel Cook