* At least 23 people dead in California, Oregon and Washington * Washington governor: ‘We have to think of it as a climate fire’ * Follow for live updates of the wildfiresResidents of Portland awoke on Friday to fears of wildfires encroaching on them and the air thick with smoke pollution that dimmed the sun and turned the skies blood-orange red in some areas, as did hundreds of thousands across Oregon.Historic fires are raging in the western US, with at least 23 people believed to have been killed so far in the worst-affected states of California, Oregon and Washington, with almost 100 fires consuming record areas of landscape amid tinder-dry conditions and high temperatures exacerbated by the climate crisis. The wildfires are estimated to be six times greater than they were at this time last year.Portland was named as the city with the world’s worst air quality on Friday, according to the website IQAir.At least half a million people in Oregon, a tenth of the state’s population, are under evacuation orders, while California is tackling a huge fire in its northern region deemed the largest wildfire in the state’s history.Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, has declared a fire emergency, allowing him to activate evacuation centers, make special provision for the city’s homeless population and close the city’s famed Forest Park and other large green nature areas, where trees can fuel the fires.South of the city, fires are moving so fast that some people who were evacuated and went to a shelter had to be evacuated again.By Thursday afternoon, fires had already forced the evacuation of large parts of Clackamas county, the Portland metropolitan area’s south-easternmost segment, and home to about 420,000 people.From late afternoon, RVs, trucks and passenger cars traveling north from the affected areas clogged the highways leading to Portland.Not far from Portland, firefighters on Friday were concerned that the giant Riverside fire near the evacuated town of Molalla, which has already burned 125,000 acres on the west slope of the Cascade mountains, might merge with the deadly Beechie Creek fire.default That latter fire is immediately to the south, and has already burned 182,000 acres, destroyed the lakeside town of Detroit, killing a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother, who were attempting to flee its flames.And all week, the fire has been belching black smoke over Salem, the state’s capital, 40 miles south of Portland. At least 50 fires have burned over 800 sq miles across the state, and whole communities have been incinerated in the south-eastern part of Oregon.Authorities in the state are also struggling to handle a deluge of misinformation about the fires, as people spread unsubstantiated social media posts blaming coordinated groups of arsonists from both the far left and far right for setting the blazes.The FBI said Friday that it’s investigated several claims and found them to be untrue, while officials in Oregon and Washington state have turned to Facebook to knock down the competing narratives, with some posts blaming Antifa activists and others claimed the far-right group the Proud Boys was responsible for starting the fires.“Reports that extremists are setting wildfires in Oregon are untrue,” FBI Portland tweeted on Friday. “Help us stop the spread of misinformation by only sharing information from trusted, official sources.”Meanwhile in Washington state, an exhausted firefighter wrote on a local firefighters’ union Facebook page about the difficulty of having to fight both the blazes and an onslaught of rapidly-spreading false information.“There is nothing to show its Antifa, or Proud Boys setting fires. Wait for information,” he wrote. “[Facebook] is an absolute cesspool of misinformation right now. Especially any of the neighborhood groups you may be in. Please, don’t share or spread, unverified, non-news related info.”Meanwhile, hot, dry weather conditions in California appeared to be easing the spread of multiple blazes that have blitzed historic amounts of land.In northern California, a wildfire that destroyed a foothill hamlet has become the state’s deadliest blaze of the year. Ten people were confirmed to have died and the toll could climb as 16 people remain missing.The North Complex fire that exploded in wind-driven flames earlier in the week was advancing more slowly on Friday after the winds eased and smoke from the blaze shaded the area and lowered the temperature, allowing firefighters to make progress, authorities said.Speaking from the site of the North Complex fire in Oroville, California governor Gavin Newsom said the state was seeing the reality of climate change play out in real time, and that the state’s clean energy goals and other preventive efforts were “inadequate”.“What we’re experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States of America, unless we can act on climate change,” Newsom warned.The governor also signed a bill into law that will give some people who served as firefighters while incarcerated a chance to expunge their record, allowing them to get paid jobs as firefighters upon release. California relies heavily on prison labor for its firefighting efforts. Many incarcerated firefighters earn just pennies an hour for the dangerous work of fighting wildfires, and the system has attracted intense criticism, especially as many former inmates have no realistic path into a career.In Washington state, 600,000 acres have burned. Governor Jay Inslee, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination on a ticket that put the climate crisis as the No 1 issue facing America and the world, said the abnormally dry conditions and high temperatures fueled by climate change were making fires “so explosive”.“We talk about this as wildfires, we have to start thinking about it as more of a climate fire,” Inslee said.Some parts of Oregon have likely not seen such intense blazes in 300 to 400 years, Meg Krawchuk, a pyrogeographer at Oregon State University, told the Guardian.“It’s very important to think in terms of learning from [the situation] right now – because we may be getting a glimpse of what our future may continue to be,” Krawchuk said.Although untangling the weather conditions from climate change is complicated, a combination of global heating – which is driving drier, hotter conditions and more frequent, extreme droughts – and a buildup of dried and dead vegetation that fuel fires are overall increasing the risk of bigger, more extreme fires.Across the west, “there have always been fires”, said Stephen Pyne, a fire historian and professor emeritus at Arizona State University. But the extreme fires are becoming more frequent.In Oregon, of 500,000 people under evacuation orders on Thursday an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 have already been forced to flee their homes, according to Governor Kate Brown.Evacuation orders are staged: level 1, “be ready to leave”; level 2, “get set to leave”; and level 3, “go now”. All three categories make up the number of Oregonians, roughly 10% of the 4.2 million state population, under the directives.In Molalla, a police car rolled through the streets with a loudspeaker blaring “evacuate now”. Firefighters south of Portland were told to disengage temporarily on Thursday because of the danger. Officials tried to reassure residents who abandoned their homes, and law enforcement said patrols would be stepped up to prevent looting.“We haven’t abandoned you,” the local fire department said on Twitter. “They are taking a ‘tactical pause’ to allow firefighters to reposition, get accountability and evaluate extreme fire conditions.”A record 3m acres have burned across California this year, with so many blazes simultaneously whipping through dry wilderness that many have converged into massive “complexes”, the scope of which the state has never seen.Josiah Williams, 16, was among the first of 10 known victims killed so far by the North Complex fire, in Berry Creek.“He’s a kind, sweet boy who has the best personality,” his aunt, Bobbie Zedaker, had told the Guardian, while the family were waiting for news. His mother later confirmed his death on Facebook. On Thursday, the August Complex – the product of 37 fires in and around Tehama county – became the largest ever recorded in California at 471,000 acres.That fire poses less of a threat than blazes closer to urban and suburban areas. Meanwhile southern California has the worst air quality it has known for a generation, with the highest ozone pollution levels recorded since 1994.
Home Current News Historic fires across western US force evacuations, stretch fire crews, spawn misinformation