Surprised residents of the small Oregon town of Phoenix were devastated Thursday after several wildfires wiped out much of their community, including a mobile home park, homes and businesses.
While residents in southern Oregon, near the California border, are assessing their losses, other wildfires are rising in the northwestern part of the state, with more people said to flee for their lives.
As of Thursday evening, the number of residents across the state had been evacuated as the fires reached 500,000, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management reported. This is more than 10 percent of the state’s 4.2 million population.
The fire, which reached Molalla for a population of 9,000, 48 kilometers south of Portland, has begun a mandatory evacuation order. The Oregon Department of Corrections says it is “carefully” evacuating a women’s prison less than a mile from Interstate 5 in the southern suburbs of Portland.
Some firefighters in Clokamas County, including Mollalla, were told to disperse due to dangerous firefighting as the two major fires in the area are believed to have merged, the state fire marshal’s office said.
After spending the night in their cars in the Home Depot parking lot on the outskirts of Phoenix, people walked from the town to embrace Interstate 5 to the rest of the area. They pulled carts and carried backpacks and bags to protect as much as possible.
See | Wilfires destroying parts of the western US:
Jonathan Weir defied evacuation orders as fires erupted nine meters high from the trees. He drove his car to the entrance of a nearby mobile home park, where his tires began to melt. His house was destroyed when fires erupted through the town of 4,000 residents.
“There were fires from me on the street, fires on my right side, fires on my left side. I saw everything burning,” Weir told a reporter.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that 600 homes were burned and torn down by a fire in Ashland, according to Medford’s Mail Tribune.
At least 16 people have been killed in wildfires across Oregon, Washington State and California, where hot, dry and windy weather combined to create the right conditions for the fires.
The small farm town of Malden in eastern Washington was largely destroyed, losing its fire station, post office, city hall and library. In California, thousands of homes were threatened Thursday as winds blew down on a monster that burned down homes and killed at least three people in a small mountain community. Experts say California fires are moving bigger and faster than ever before.
Oregon officials were shocked by the simultaneous fires, which were recorded at 39 a.m. Thursday, the state office of emergency management said.
Over the past three days, more than 900,000 acres (364,000 hectares) across the state – more than the size of Rhode Island – have almost doubled in area burned in a normal year. The death toll is not yet known, she told a news conference. Brown tweeted that more than 80,000 people had fled their homes.
“We’ve never seen this amount across the state,” Brown said.
Back in Phoenix, Jerry Walker fled in his pajamas and only had time to loot some cash. He had no idea his apartment complex had been evacuated.
“I have never seen such devastation in my life,” Walker said. “I don’t know how we will recover.”
Phoenix City Councilman Al Mulhofer said he had gone to the northern end of town, but heard no casualties.
At least three people have been killed in Oregon, including a boy and his grandmother, and many more have been severely burned. One year old boy was among the dead in Washington.
Elsewhere, wildfires devastated towns in the valley and mountainous areas of the Cascade Range, where the remains of a boy and his dog were found. Fires also broke out in the coastal town of Lincoln City and Estacada, 48 kilometers southeast of Portland.
Fires also broke out along the I-5, closing the main freeway along the West Coast on Wednesday. U.S. Highway 101, a major coastal highway passing through California, Oregon and Washington, was also affected.
Those who had gathered at the State Fair Grounds in Salem, many brought their animals.
‘You can hear popping things’
According to the Mail Tribune in Medford, the Jackson County Sheriff confirmed at least one death and criminal investigation at the source of the wildfire that started near Ashland.
Vietnam veteran Lloyd Dean Holland escaped from his home in Estacada on Tuesday night. He left his rented house after a fire broke out in the cedar trees around him. He said the only belongings he had left – his dog, rifles, dentures and some clothing – were all in the truck he was fleeing from.
“I ‘ve been through hell and high water, but there’s no such thing. I was shot, but this – last night – I’m not on it yet,” Holland said.
Back in Phoenix, Marty Curtis was lucky. She left the house. She escaped with her cat Louie.
“You could see the fires, you could hear popping things – gas tanks and propane tanks exploding,” she said. “I have my house, I have my life. I have my cat and I have my job – and right now, I just need it.”