At least 19 people have died this week in Oregon, Washington and California as wildfires continue to rage in western states. Dozens are still missing in Oregon, where officials are preparing for a “mass fatality incident.”
“We know we’re dealing with fire-related deaths and we’re preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the number of structures lost,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the state’s Office of Emergency Management. “The long term recovery is going to last years.”
More than half a million people — 12% of the state’s population — have fled from their homes in Oregon and mass evacuations are underway across the region. Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, said the fires have burned more than 1 million acres.
“I know it’s been a rough few days, many Oregonians are suffering right now, whether displaced themselves or worried about their families and communities while watching our beautiful state burn,” Brown said in a briefing Friday. “We are doing everything we can to fight these fires.”
The monstrous fires are moving so quickly that they’re overwhelming fire crews. The fires are also creating choking smoke from Los Angeles to Seattle. Portland and San Francisco now have the worst air quality in the world and officials are urging people to stay indoors.
In Berry Creek, California, what used to be a lakeside community full of homes is now incinerated. One fire has claimed at least 10 lives, including that of 16-year-old Josiah Williams, who was found last night near his home. California’s death toll originally stood at 12 but has since been revised down to 11.
In Washington, Jamie and Jake Hyland lost their 1-year-old son, Uriel, and their unborn child as they tried to escape the flames. The couple also suffered severe burns.
“In my worst dreams, I couldn’t imagine what my sister and brother-in-law had to go through and to do everything they could to fight for their lives and to protect their child,” Jamie Hyland’s sister, Dawnmarie Baxter, told CBS News. “And so to lose him and her baby, it’s, there’s no words and nothing will ever make it right.”
There is some hopeful news: calm winds are predicted for this weekend, and the Pacific Northwest could see some much-needed rain next week.