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Nine killed in US west coast wildfires

Dozens of extreme wind-driven wildfires have burned through forests and towns in US West Coast states, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least nine people.

In the past 48 hours, four people died from fires in California, while four were killed in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died in Washington state, police reported. Thousands faced evacuation orders in the three states.

Oregon bore the brunt of nearly 100 major wildfires ripping across the western states, with around 3000 firefighters battling nearly three dozen wildfires.

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

In central Oregon search and rescue teams entered torched communities like Detroit where firefighters led residents on a dramatic mountain escape after military helicopters were unable to evacuate the town.

A 12-year-old boy was found dead with his dog inside a burned car and his grandmother was believed to have succumbed after flames engulfed an area near Lyons, about 80 km south of Portland, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said.

To the south, a Reuters photographer saw small communities near Medford, including Bear Lake Estates, reduced to ashes as he drove south on Interstate 5 towards Ashland.

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 up to 40,000 people had evacuated across the state where 365,000 hectares had burned, dwarfing Oregon’s average 202,000 hectare full-year total.

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” Brown told a news conference.

“We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change.”

Firefighters expected two of the state’s largest fires, burning around 40km southeast of downtown Portland, to merge. Nearby Molalla, with about 10,000 residents was evacuated, and Canby, a community of 18,000 around 16km from central Portland, was told to be ready to leave.

In California, officials said some 64,000 people were under evacuation orders while crews battled 29 major fires across portions of the most populous US state.

Wildfires have now burned more than 1.2 million hectares in California in 2020, marking a record for any year, with six of the top 20 largest wildfires in state history occurring this year.

In Washington, a man and a woman were in critical condition with burns after their one-year-old son died as they tried to escape the state’s largest wildfire burning in mountains about 160km northwest of Spokane, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

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