Oregon inmates find redemption in fighting wildfires

By Adrees Latif

PAISLEY, Ore. (Reuters) – In the flames, they are finding redemption.

The 10 Oregon prisoners carry chainsaws, axes, shovels and hoes into the biggest wildfires the state has seen in a century.

Banding together, they form lines in the forest and trudge up the steep ashen slopes of the Cascade Mountains, hunting embers that could reignite flames.

The men are part of a seven-decade-old state-run program that aims to do two basic things: Rehabilitate prisoners by teaching them a trade, and provide extra boots on the ground for intense wildfire seasons.

A dozen such crews have worked fires in Oregon this month, which has seen over 1 million acres burn and nine people die during this year’s wildfire season.

The men in a crew working the forested mountains near Paisley, Oregon, last week were mostly young and fit. They had to be to scale the punishing terrain. Ankle-deep ash slicked hills and meant the men slipped two steps back for each stride forward.

Many were violent offenders – armed robberies and assaults were common convictions – but none were in prison for homicide or sexual crimes. Most say they have personalities that feed off adrenaline. The highs that crime brought landed them in jail. All say they are blessed to have found a legal, alternative rush.

“This gives us a different opportunity, rather than going back to something that we already know, which is guns, gangs, violence and drugs,” said Eddie Correia, 36, who is about halfway through his six-year sentence for an assault conviction.

Correia’s crew had 10 prisoners who spent their days fighting fires and another 10 who slept and worked in an Oregon Department of Forestry support camp, picking up trash, serving food and providing other services. They earn $6 a day for their labor.

The men wake at 6:30 a.m. each day in Oregon’s cold early fall dawn. They dress in sweatshirts emblazoned with the word INMATE and make their way to a makeshift breakfast area, where they sip coffee, stamp their feet to ward off the chill and chat about the chore that awaits them.

Around them, the flat green pastures of the Fremont National Forest run right up to the fire-devastated mountains, where billows of white smoke float upward from the flames.

The men prep their equipment before heading out, using files to sharpen axes and triple checking their bright yellow backpacks to make sure all their gear is there.

Armando Gomez-Zacarias, 24, who has just over three years left on a 7-1/2 year sentence for robbery, said the work gave him “a nice adrenaline rush.”

The physical toll, he emphasized, was brutal.

“It’s like running 100 laps on the track without stopping and carrying 50 pounds of weight,” he said.

Correia, who has fought fires in the program since 2018 and wants to continue after he is released from jail, said the strenuous work and danger fostered a camaraderie impossible to replicate inside prison walls.

Those connections and sense of purpose, he said, “have helped me deal with a lot of my own demons.”

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Paisley, Oregon; Additional reporting and writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Richard Chang)

U.S. Midwest sees surge in COVID-19 cases as four states report record increases

By Anurag Maan and Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Four U.S. states in the Midwest reported record one-day increases in COVID-19 cases on Saturday as infections rise nationally for a second week in a row, according to a Reuters analysis.

Minnesota reported 1,418 new cases, Montana 343 new cases, South Dakota reported 579 and Wisconsin had 2,902 new cases.

In the last week, seven mostly Midwest states have reported record one-day rises in new infections — Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Minnesota and Utah reported record increases two days in a row.

The United States recorded 58,461 new cases on Friday, the highest one-day increase since Aug. 7. The United States is reporting nearly 46,000 new infections on average each day, compared with 40,000 a week ago and 35,000 two weeks ago.

All Midwest states except Ohio reported more cases in the past four weeks as compared with the prior four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.

Some of the new cases are likely related to an increase in the number of tests performed. In the last week, the country has performed over 1 million coronavirus tests three out of seven days — a new record, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, hospitalizations have also surged in the Midwest and are not influenced by the number of tests performed.

Wisconsin’s hospitalizations have set new records for six days in a row, rising to 543 on Friday from 342 a week ago. South Dakota’s hospitalizations set records five times this week, rising to 213 on Saturday from 153 last week.

“Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the number of COVID-19 cases in our state,” Governor Tony Evers said in a video posted on social media.

Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming have also seen record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the past week.

Cases have also begun rising again in the Northeast, including the early epicenters of New York and New Jersey.

In New York, more than 1,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday for the first time since June 5, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday.

The United States recently surpassed 200,000 lives lost from the coronavirus, the highest death toll in the world.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Crews make headway against massive California wildfire

By Mimi Dwyer

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters notched a victory in their battle to beat back a massive blaze raging outside Los Angeles, more than doubling containment in the past 24 hours, the U.S. Forest Service said on Wednesday.

The Bobcat Fire, which has been burning in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles since Sept. 6, was 38% contained as of Wednesday morning, John Clearwater, USFS spokesperson for Angeles National Forest, said in an email update.

The fire has so far burned more than 113,000 acres but remained relatively stable overnight. The flames were 17% contained on Tuesday.

The Bobcat Fire, one of the largest and most dangerous fires in recorded Los Angeles history, is just one element stoking the worst fire season California has seen to date.

For more than a week it has threatened to overtake the Mount Wilson Observatory, a California landmark and beloved historical site that was home to major astronomical advancements in the early 20th century.

Some 1,556 firefighters are currently deployed to combat it, the Forest Service said.

Wildfires have ravaged the West Coast this summer and pushed firefighters to their limits. At least 26 people have died in fires across California since August 15, including three firefighters, according to the state agency CAL FIRE.

One of those firefighters died as a result of a fire sparked by a botched gender reveal party.

Roughly 3.4 million acres have burned across California during the same period.

Another 10 people have died and approximately 2 million acres have burned in fires in Washington and Oregon.

California has seen five of its largest fires on record in this wildfire season alone. Outside Los Angeles, the momentary reprieve could dissipate by the weekend, when weather was expected to grow warmer and drier, and forecasts showed the possibility of gusty winds, the Forest Service said.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Gregorio)

California firefighters make stand to save famed observatory, homes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews fought on Tuesday to defend homes and the famed Mount Wilson Observatory from California’s biggest and most dangerous wildfire, standing their ground at a major highway between the flames and populated areas.

The Bobcat Fire, which broke out Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles, has already blackened an area larger than the city of Atlanta and its rapid spread prompted worried law enforcement officials to call for new evacuations on Monday evening.

Once home to the largest operational telescope in the world, the Mount Wilson Observatory, which sits on a peak of the San Gabriel mountains near vital communications towers, said in an update that almost all the forest around it had burned.

Firefighters overnight kept the Bobcat from breaching containment lines near the observatory and were preventively burning vegetation ahead of the fire along state Highway 2, which runs northeast from Los Angeles.

This summer California already has seen more land charred by wildfires than in any previous full year, with some 3.4 million acres burned since mid-August.

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that some scientists call evidence of climate change, have destroyed some 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters.

Another 2 million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington during an outbreak of wildfires, destroying more than 4,400 structures and claiming 10 lives. But rain showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest gain control of those conflagrations.

Although California has seen little rain in September, bouts of high temperatures and gale-force winds have given way in recent days to cooler weather, enabling firefighters to gain ground.

But forecasters predict rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around midweek in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half, lending urgency to the firefight.

The Bobcat Fire has now scorched more than 109,000 acres to become one of the largest wildfires in recorded Los Angeles County history and was only 17% contained on Tuesday afternoon.

The flames came perilously close to the Mount Wilson Observatory last week before they were driven back by crews using air support.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under evacuation warnings.

California’s fire season historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

California firefighters race to subdue flames before heat and winds return

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Five weeks after California erupted in deadly wildfires supercharged by record heat and howling winds, crews battling flames pushed on Monday to consolidate their gains as forecasts called for a return of blistering, gusty weather.

California already has lost far more landscape to wildfires this summer than during any previous entire year, with scores of conflagrations – many sparked by catastrophic lightning storms – scorching some 3.4 million acres since mid-August.

The previous record was just under 2 million acres burned in 2018.

As of Monday, more than 19,000 firefighters continued to wage war on 27 major blazes across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that scientists have pointed to as signs of climate change, have destroyed an estimated 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters, CalFire reported.

Another 2 million acres have gone up in flames in Oregon and Washington state during an overlapping outbreak of wildfires that started earlier this month, destroying more than 4,400 structures in all and claiming 10 lives.

But a weekend of intermittently heavy showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest tamp down blazes in those two states.

Although California has seen little or no rain in recent days, bouts of extreme heat and gale-force winds that had produced incendiary conditions for weeks have given way to lower temperatures and lighter breezes, enabling firefighters to gain ground around most fires.

“They’re going to take advantage of this cool weather while they can,” CalFire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told Reuters.

The break in the weather is not expected to last much longer. Tolmachoff said forecasts call for rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around mid-week in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half.

BOBCAT FIRE PROVES STUBBORN

Some fires have proven more stubborn than others. One in particular, dubbed the Bobcat Fire, grew to more than 100,000 acres on Monday in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, with containment levels achieved by firefighters holding steady at just 15%, CalFire said.

The Bobcat last week spread perilously close to a famed astronomical observatory and complex of vital communications towers at the summit of Mount Wilson, while forcing evacuations of communities in the foothills below.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under an evacuation warning, advising residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. At the opposite end of the sprawling mountain range to the north, the fire was reported to have destroyed some homes and other structures in the high desert of the Antelope Valley.

Across the Bobcat fire zone and others, ground crews with axes, shovels and bulldozers clambered through rugged canyons and mountain slopes, hacking away tinder-dry brush and scrub before it could burn, creating containment lines around the perimeter of advancing flames.

They were assisted by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers dumping flame retardant on the blazes.

Regardless of the progress they make this week, California’s record fire season remains far from over. The height of wildfire activity historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Crews battle wildfires in U.S. West as smoke travels the world

By Deborah Bloom and Brad Brooks

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – As fire crews continued to battle deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, thousands of evacuees in Oregon and other states faced a daily struggle while scientists in Europe tracked the smoke on Wednesday as it spread on an intercontinental scale.

With state resources stretched to their limit, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night approved a request from Oregon’s governor for a federal disaster declaration, bolstering federal assistance for emergency response and relief efforts.

Dozens of fires have burned some 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of tinder-dry brush, grass and woodlands in Oregon, California and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 34 people.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated more than $1.2 million in mission assignments to bring relief to Oregon and has deployed five urban search and rescue teams to the wildfire-torn region, the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Search teams scoured incinerated homes for the missing as firefighters kept up their exhausting battle.

The wildfires, which officials and scientists have described as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have filled the region’s skies with smoke and soot, compounding a public health crisis already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientists in Europe tracked the smoke as it bore down on the continent, underscoring the magnitude of the disaster. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) is monitoring the scale and intensity of the fires and the transport of the resultant smoke across the United States and beyond.

“The fact that these fires are emitting so much pollution into the atmosphere that we can still see thick smoke over 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) away reflects just how devastating they have been in their magnitude and duration,” CAMS Senior Scientist Mark Parrington said in a statement.

CAMS said it uses satellite observations of aerosols, carbon monoxide and other constituents of smoke to monitor and forecast its movement through the atmosphere.

Eight deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, which became the latest and most concentrated hot spot in a larger summer outbreak of fires across the entire western United States. The Pacific Northwest was hardest hit.

The fires roared to life in California in mid-August, and erupted across Oregon and Washington around Labor Day last week, many of them sparked by catastrophic lightning storms and stoked by record-breaking heat waves and bouts of howling winds.

Weather conditions improved early this week, enabling firefighters to begin to make headway in efforts to contain and tamp down the blazes.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said 16,600 firefighters were still battling 25 major fires on Tuesday, after achieving full containment around the perimeter of other large blazes.

Firefighters in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles waged an all-out campaign to save the famed Mount Wilson Observatory and an adjacent complex of broadcast transmission towers from flames that crept near the site.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Deborah Bloom, Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Thousands of Oregon evacuees shelter from wildfires as U.S. disaster declared

By Deborah Bloom and Brad Brooks

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Thousands of evacuees displaced by deadly wildfires in Oregon settled into a second week of life in shelters and car camping on Tuesday as fire crews battled on, and search teams scoured the ruins of incinerated homes for the missing.

With state resources stretched to their limit, President Donald Trump approved a request from Oregon’s governor for a federal disaster declaration, bolstering U.S. government assistance for emergency response and relief efforts.

Dozens of fires have charred some 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of tinder-dry brush, grass and woodlands in Oregon, California and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 34 people.

Eight deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, which became the latest and most concentrated hot spot in a larger summer outbreak of fires across the entire western United States. The Pacific Northwest was hardest hit.

The conflagrations, which officials and scientists have described as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have also filled the region’s skies with smoke and soot, compounding a public health crisis already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Satellite images showed high-altitude plumes of smoke from the fires drifting as far east as New York City and Washington, D.C., carried aloft by the jet stream.

The fires roared to life in California in mid-August, and erupted across Oregon and Washington around Labor Day last week, many of them sparked by catastrophic lightning storms and stoked by record-breaking heat waves and bouts of howling winds.

Weather conditions improved early this week, enabling firefighters to begin to make headway in efforts to contain and tamp down the blazes.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said 16,600 firefighters were still battling 25 major fires on Tuesday, after achieving full containment around the perimeter of other large blazes.

Firefighters in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles waged an all-out campaign to save the famed Mount Wilson Observatory and an adjacent complex of broadcast transmission towers from flames that crept to within 500 feet of the site.

RECORD ACREAGE LOST

At least 25 people have perished in California wildfires over the past four weeks, while more than 4,200 homes and other buildings have gone up in smoke, CalFire reported. Nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) in California alone have burned – more than in any single year in its history – and five of the 20 largest wildfires on record in the state have occurred during that time-frame.

One wildfire fatality has been confirmed in Washington state, where some 400 structures have been lost. Roughly 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) have been blackened in Oregon, double the state’s annual average over the past decade.

At the height of the crisis there, some 500,000 residents – at least 10% of the state’s population – were under some form of evacuation alert, many forced to flee their homes as swiftly advancing flames closed in on their neighborhoods. More than 1,700 structures, most of them dwellings, have been incinerated

At last count, some 16 people reported missing remained unaccounted for in Oregon, emergency management officials said. Last week, authorities said they were bracing for possible mass casualties as search teams began combing wreckage of homes destroyed during chaotic evacuations.

In the fire-stricken southwestern Oregon town of Phoenix, uprooted families, many with young children, were sleeping in their cars, huddling at a civic center or in churches, City Council member Sarah Westover said.

“It’s much more difficult to follow the COVID restrictions given the environment,” Westover said.

Marcus Welch, a food service director and youth soccer coach in Phoenix, said he was helping a group of high school students whose homes were spared to run a donation center set up to assist evacuees from a mobile-home park reduced to ash.

“Every day, I hear a sad story. Every day, I hear a family displaced. People are crying because high school kids are giving them food, water. … It’s been a total blessing,” Welch said. “Some people, they lost everything, so we encourage them to take everything they can.”

Westover said her community was in grief, while fearing a flareup might force them to flee again. Her house in Phoenix was spared, but others nearby were leveled.

“It’s like it cherry-picked – it burned down a house, then skipped two, then burned down another. I guess that’s the way they kind of work with the embers flying around,” Westover said.

Rhonda and Chuck Johnston, of Gates, Oregon, described celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary outside their RV playing card games and eating barbecued chicken in the parking lot of a fairgrounds after a hasty evacuation.

“This is something you never think you’re going to go through,” Rhonda Johnston said. “We grabbed a couple days’ worth of clothes, pills, and two cars full of pictures and two dogs and a cat and our daughter.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Deborah Bloom, Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif; Writing by Will Dunham and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney & Shri Navaratnam)

Oregon governor seeks more federal help as wildfires burn in U.S. West

By Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif

(Reuters) – Oregon’s governor is seeking additional federal assistance as her state battles the deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, and local residents pitched in on Tuesday to help the many people displaced by the blazes.

Dozens of wildfires have burned across some 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) in California, Oregon and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least three dozen people.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Monday sent a letter to the White House requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration following the federal emergency declaration on Sept. 10. The request from the Democratic governor includes a call for additional communications resources, damage-assessment teams, search-and-rescue and debris management, as well as help with shelter and medical assistance.

“Firefighting resources became completely exhausted during this event, and because both California and Washington state are experiencing similar wildfire emergencies, Oregon’s requests for assistance from neighboring states were, for days, going unfilled,” the letter said, explaining the need for further federal resources.

On Monday, President Donald Trump met with firefighters and officials in California.

Ten deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, the latest flashpoint in a larger summer outbreak of fires accompanied by lightning storms, heat waves and extreme winds.

The fires have put harmful levels of smoke and soot into the region’s air, painting skies with tones of orange and sepia even as local residents deal with another public health emergency in the coronavirus pandemic.

Cooler, moister weather and calmer winds over the weekend enabled firefighters to gain ground in efforts to outflank blazes that had burned largely unchecked last week. Thunderstorms forecast for later in the week could bring much-needed rain but also more lightning.

As disaster teams scoured the ruins of dwellings engulfed by flames amid chaotic evacuations last week, Oregon’s emergency management authorities said they had yet to account for 22 people reported missing in the fires.

‘A TOTAL BLESSING’

Tens of thousands of displaced residents across the Pacific Northwest continued to adjust to life as evacuees, many of them living out of their cars in parking lots. In some communities, local residents have pitched in to help people displaced by the fires.

Marcus Welch, a food service director and youth soccer coach in the southwestern Oregon city of Phoenix, said he has been helping a group of local high school students run a community donation center to assist a mostly Latino local population whose mobile homes were burned to the ground. About 600 people have come by to pick up donations, Welch added.

The high school students, whose homes were spared from the Almeda Fire, started handing out water bottles in the parking lot of a local Home Depot store last Wednesday and Thursday, Welch said.

By Friday, local residents began dropping off large amounts of items, including baby supplies, clothing and canned food, Welch said.

“Every day, I hear a sad story. Every day, I hear a family displaced. People are crying because high school kids are giving them food, water. … It’s been a total blessing,” Welch said. “Some people, they lost everything, so we encourage them to take everything they can.”

At least 25 people have perished in California wildfires since mid-August, and one death has been confirmed in Washington state. More than 6,200 homes and other structures have been lost, according to figures from all three states.

Reinforcing local law enforcement resources strained by the disaster, Oregon is deploying as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to fire-stricken communities.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

‘All gone:’ Residents return to burned-out Oregon towns as many West Coast wildfires keep burning

By Adrees Latif and Patrick Fallon

TALENT, Ore. (Reuters) – Search-and-rescue teams, with dogs in tow, were deployed across the blackened ruins of southern Oregon towns on Sunday as smoldering wildfires still ravaged U.S. Pacific Coast states after causing widespread destruction.

A blitz of wildfires across Oregon, California and Washington has destroyed thousands of homes and a half dozen small towns this summer, scorching more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) and killing more than two dozen people since early August.

Tracy Koa, a high school teacher, returned to Talent, Oregon, on Saturday after evacuating with her partner, Dave Tanksle, and 13-year-old daughter to find her house and neighborhood reduced to heaps of ash and rubble.

“We knew that it was gone,” Koa said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “But then you pull up, and the devastation of just every home, you think of every family and every situation and every burnt-down car, and there are just no words for it.”

Crews in Jackson County, Oregon, where Talent is located, were hoping to venture into rural areas where the Almeda Fire has abated slightly with slowing winds, sending up thick plumes of smoke as the embers burned. From Medford through the neighboring communities of Phoenix and Talent, an apocalyptic scene of charred residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for miles along Highway 99.

Community donation centers popped up around Jackson County over the weekend, including one in the parking lot of Home Depot in Phoenix, where farmers brought a pickup truck bed full of watermelons and people brought water and other supplies.

Farther north in Clackamas County, Dane Valentine, 28, showed a Reuters journalist the remains of his house.

“This is my home,” he said. “Yep. All gone.”

Down the road, a woman with a Trump 2020 sign on her home, pointed a shotgun at the journalist and shouted at him to leave.

“You’re the reason they’re setting fires up here,” she said, perhaps referring to false rumors that left-wing activists had sparked the wildfires.

After four days of brutally hot, windy weather, the weekend brought calmer winds blowing inland from the Pacific Ocean, and cooler, moister conditions that helped crews make headway against blazes that had burned unchecked last week.

Still, emergency officials worried that the shifting weather might not be enough to quell the fires.

“We’re concerned that the incoming front is not going to provide a lot of rain here in the Medford region and it’s going to bring increased winds,” Bureau of Land Management spokesman Kyle Sullivan told Reuters in a telephone interview on Sunday.

At least 10 people have been killed in Oregon, according to the office of emergency management. Oregon Governor Kate Brown has said dozens of people remain missing across three counties.

There were 34 active fires burning in Oregon as of Sunday morning, according to the state’s office of emergency management website.

CLIMATE CHANGE ‘WAKE-UP CALL’

Thick smoke and ash from the fires have darkened skies over the Pacific Northwest since Labor Day last Monday, creating some of the world’s worst air-quality levels and driving residents indoors. Satellite images showed the smoke was wafting inland in an easterly direction, the Bureau of Land Management said on Twitter on Sunday.

Drought conditions, extreme temperatures and high winds in Oregon created the “perfect firestorm” for the blazes to grow, Brown told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us that we’ve got to do everything in our power to tackle climate change,” the Democratic governor said.

President Donald Trump was scheduled to travel to California and meet with federal and state officials on Monday. He has said that Western governors bear some of the blame for intense fire seasons in recent years, as opposed to warming temperatures, and has accused them of poor forest management.

In California, evacuations were ordered for the northern tip of the San Gabriel Valley suburb of Arcadia as the Bobcat Fire threatened communities.

At Wilderness Park in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, firefighters prepared to stave off the blaze as it worked its way downhill.

Steep terrain and dry hills that have not burned for 60 years are providing fuel for the blaze, which started over the Labor Day weekend.

As the smoke that has been clogging the air and blocking heat from the sun begins to lift, firefighters expect the weather to heat up and fire activity could increase, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

All told in California, nearly 17,000 firefighters were battling 29 major wildfires on Sunday, Cal Fire said.

Improving weather conditions had helped them gain a measure of containment over blazes in many parts of the state, and some evacuated residents in Madera County near where the massive Creek Fire was burning, were allowed to go back home.

More than 4,000 homes and other structures have been incinerated in California alone over the past three weeks. About 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of land have been burned in the state, according to Cal Fire.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Ashland, Oregon, and Patrick Fallon in Arcadia, California; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein, Gabriella Borter, Dan Whitcomb, Doina Chiacu, Shannon Stapleton and Aishwarya Nair; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Nick Zieminski and Peter Cooney)

U.S. West wildfires kill 16; in Oregon 500,000 flee

By Carlos Barria and Adrees Latif

(Reuters) – Around half a million people in Oregon evacuated as dozens of extreme, wind-driven wildfires scorched U.S. West Coast states on Friday, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least 16 people, state and local authorities said.

Since Monday 11 people have died from fires in California, while four were killed in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died in Washington state, police reported.

In Oregon alone the number of people under evacuation orders climbed to some 500,000 – about an eighth of the state’s total population – as Portland suburbs came under threat from the state’s biggest blaze, the state Office of Emergency Management said.

Thousands more were displaced north and south in the neighboring states of Washington and California.

Oregon bore the brunt of nearly 100 major wildfires raging across Western states, with around 3,000 firefighters battling nearly three dozen blazes and officials saying about twice as many people were needed.

Police have opened a criminal arson investigation into at least one Oregon blaze, the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland near the border with California and incinerated several hundred homes in adjacent communities along Bear Creek, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said.

The Oregon blazes tore through multiple communities in the Cascade mountain range as well as areas of coastal rainforest normally spared from wildfires. In eastern Washington state a fire destroyed most of the tiny farming town of Malden.

In central Oregon search-and-rescue teams entered devastated communities in the Santiam Valley to look for missing people.

To the south, a string of small communities along Interstate 5 near Medford were reduced to ashes after embers from a wildfire blew for miles.

Firefighters said unusually hot, dry winds out of the east supercharged blazes, spreading flames from community to community, and then from house to house.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown said some 900,000 acres (364,220 hectares) had burned, dwarfing the state’s annual 500,000-acre (202,340-hectare) average over the past decade.

“This will not be a onetime event,” Brown told a Thursday news conference. “We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change”

Climate scientists say global warming has contributed to greater extremes in wet and dry seasons, causing vegetation to flourish then dry out in the U.S. West, leaving more abundant, volatile fuel for fires.

Two of Oregon’s largest fires, burning around 20 miles (32 km) southeast of downtown Portland merged, leading to a major expansion of evacuations in densely populated Clackamas County,

In California, the United States’ most populous state, wildfires have burned over 3.1 million acres (1.25 million hectares) so far this year, marking a record for any year, with six of the top 20 largest wildfires in state history occurring in 2020.

About a third of evacuees were displaced in Butte County alone, north of Sacramento, where the North Complex wildfire has scorched more than 247,000 acres (99,960 hectares) and destroyed over 2,000 homes and structures.

The remains of 10 victims have been found in separate locations of that fire zone, according to a spokesman for the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

Another person died in Siskiyou County in far northern California, state fire authority CalFire reported, providing no further details.

(Reporting by Carlos Barria and Adrees Latif; additional reporting by Andrew Hay, Steve Gorman and Sharon Bernstein; editing by Jonathan Oatis)