Oregon city 'looks as though a bomb went off' as fires continue to scorch the West Coast

Wyatt Tofte, 13, died in the wildfires in Marion County, Oregon, along with his 71-year-old grandmother, Peggy Mosso, a family spokesperson told CNN.

Posted: Sep 14, 2020 6:51 AM
Updated: Sep 14, 2020 6:51 AM

Wildfires scorching the West Coast have devastated the small city of Detroit, Oregon -- located about 120 miles southeast of Portland -- where a majority of the structures in the rural enclave have been flattened by fire.

"We have approximately 20-25 structures still standing, and the rest are gone," officials with the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District said on their Facebook page.

City hall, where the fire department's district office is based, was one of many buildings that burned down.

"Our primary focus is protecting the structures that are still standing," the officials said on their Facebook page. "Several of our firefighters have also lost their homes. They are working through their own losses while also fighting to protect homes still intact."

Resident Elizabeth Smith lost everything in the wildfires.

"Our homes are absolutely destroyed. I've seen a few videos and photos and my lovely little house that we remodeled 12 years ago in this beautiful canyon area is absolutely flattened. It looks as though a bomb went off," Smith told CNN affiliate KATU-TV.

Detroit Mayor Jim Trett compared his city's devastation with that of Paradise, California, which was destroyed in the Camp Fire two years ago.

"It's the same topography: three canyons coming down like a funnel into the city of Paradise at the bottom of the funnel," Trett told KATU. "When I heard that two years ago I said, that's Detroit."

Major fires spanning several states have burned 4.6 million acres, national fire officials say. That's an area roughly equivalent to Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

While the 94 major blazes are burning mostly in rural and forested areas, major cities along the West Coast -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, among them -- are also feeling the impact.

Smoke from the blazes is making air quality unhealthy, which can irritate lungs, cause inflammation and affect the immune system, heightening the risk of lung infections such as coronavirus. In Oakland, California, where many businesses and facilities are closed because of statewide Covid-19 precautions, officials have opened "clean air centers" for those with nowhere else to go, CNN affiliate KGO reporte

Of the people killed since some of the fires broke out in mid-August, 22 have been in California, many in recent days. Ten people have been killed in Oregon, and a child was killed in Washington state.

The majority of the fires are in California (25), Washington (16), Oregon (13) and Idaho (10), though blazes have also emerged in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the National Interagency Fire Center said Sunday morning.

"More than 30,000 firefighters and support personnel are assigned to incidents across the country," the center said Sunday.

President Donald Trump is planning to visit McClellan Park, California, Monday for a wildfires briefing. There's no indication whether Trump will visit any wildfire stricken areas during his trip.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will deliver remarks on the wildfires Monday from Delaware at 1 p.m. He "will discuss the threat that extreme weather events pose to Americans everywhere," according to the Biden campaign.

'It's all gone'

The Holiday Farm Fire east of Eugene, Oregon, which has torched more than 160,000 acres in the Willamette National Forest -- an area slightly larger than the city of Chicago -- is growing rapidly. It spread 5,000 acres Friday alone, officials say.

Caught in the middle of the forest is the town of Vida, where Nailah Garner had to flee her dream home last week, she and her husband forced to scramble "like the Keystone Cops," she told CNN affiliate KOMO.

"We didn't know what to grab. We didn't pack. Who knows what to do when you're going through this?" she said.

Authorities have shut down the main road into the town of 1,200 situated on the picturesque McKenzie River. Only residents who need to retrieve their pets or emergency medications are allowed past the roadblocks, the station reported.

Garner could hear the sadness in her friend's voice when she reported that Garner's dream home was no more, KOMO reported. Wearing donated clothes, Garner explained she had lost everything.

"It's all gone, and it looks like a war zone hit it," she said.

In Clackamas County, Oregon, residents are being asked to reconsider their travel plans and restrict their water usage as fires continue to burn in the area.

"Please limit your water use. Every drop is needed for our firefighters in order to use the water to save someone's home," said Nancy Bush, director of disaster management in Clackamas.

Three California fires reach historic proportions

In California, firefighters are battling more than two dozen major fires, but officials expressed hope that improving weather conditions will boost efforts to control the flames.

Three of the five largest wildfires in state history are burning now, officials say. One of those blazes, the LNU Complex Fire, which was about 96% contained as of Saturday, has burned more than 363,000 acres.

The fire is burning in Northern California wine country, and vintners worry the smoke will taint the grapes, reducing this year's yield. Oscar Renteria manages thousands of acres of vineyards, including his own patch on the edge of the LNU Complex Fire, about half of which is ruined, he told CNN affiliate KPIX.

"That's what I can predict right now," he told the station. "I've got two more weeks to go to test, and I'm not sure that I'm even going to pick some of mine. I may just take my losses and go home."

Little rain, high temperatures and strong winds helped fuel the flames, and it's unclear how long it will take to get them under control.

Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia's department is fighting fires with 500 personnel, when it usually has 1,000 to 1,500, he said Saturday. Some firefighters are working more than 24 hours in a shift, he said. The Bobcat Fire northeast of Los Angeles is tearing through the mountainous national forest.

More than 4,100 structures have been destroyed since August 15, Cal Fire said Sunday, adding that 16,750 firefighters are battling fires statewide. As the massive fires rage, more are popping up.

"Firefighters across the state responded to 36 new wildfires yesterday, and all were contained quickly," the agency said.

Fires in the state have burned more than 3.3 million acres this year, with the August Complex Fire burning in the Mendocino National Forest accounting for more than a quarter of the sum. The blaze, the largest in state history, is only 28% contained, according to Cal Fire.

LA mayor: 'This is climate change'

In the Sierra Nevada range north of Sacramento, the North Complex Fire has consumed more than 258,000 acres, killing at least 12 people, the US Forest Service said Saturday. The victims include a 16-year-old boy who was fleeing the area in his vehicle, Butte County authorities said.

Berry Creek's only store, the Village Market, was destroyed in the fire, CNN affiliate KPIX reported Saturday.

"I cried. I cried for long time," owner Mitch Dorghalli told the station. "The worst day in my life when I heard that news."

Gusty winds and low humidity in Northern California on Sunday may exacerbate already dangerous conditions, Cal Fire said.

'We saw the perfect storm'

At least eight of Oregon's wildfires are expected to burn "until the winter's rains fall," said state Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe.

Four of the 10 people killed in Oregon's wildfires died in the Beachie Creek Fire in Marion County, where Detroit is located.

Two victims identified by the Marion County Medical Examiner's Office were Wyatt Tofte, 13, and Peggy Mosso, 71, both of Lyons, about 60 miles southeast of Portland.

Wyatt was found in a car with his dog in his lap while Mosso, his grandmother, was found in another car nearby. Her daughter and Wyatt's mother, Angela, attempted to save her and was badly burned. Two other victims were located but have not been recovered because of treacherous conditions.

Dozens of people are missing, mostly across Jackson, Lane and Marion counties in western Oregon, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.

QAnon fans spread fake news on real fires

Typically, fires consume about 500,000 acres a year in the state, but "this week alone, we burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon," she said.

"We saw the perfect fire storm. We saw incredible winds. We saw very cold, hot temperatures and, of course, we have a landscape that has seen 30 years of drought," Brown said.

The state is preparing for a "mass fatality incident" based on how many structures are charred, Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said Friday.

About 500,000 people in the state are under some type of evacuation alert. Evacuation orders have been issued for more than 40,000, Brown said.

80% of buildings in Washington town destroyed

The past five days in Washington have made for the state's second worst fire season in history, Gov. Jay Inslee said. As of Saturday, 15 major fires were burning.

A 1-year-old boy died and his parents were badly burned as they tried to escape a wildfire, officials said.

The family was visiting their property west of Spokane and evacuated when the wildfire encroached. They abandoned their vehicle and fled to a river, CNN affiliate KCRA reported. The couple was rescued, but their son did not make it.

Another child was killed in the Cold Springs Fire in Omak, near the Canadian border, officials said.

Earlier this week, Inslee visited Malden in eastern Washington, where 80% of the city's buildings -- including the fire station, post office, city hall and library -- were destroyed.

"It looked like a bomb went off," city officials said, according to CNN affiliate KIRO.

In Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo said Sunday it is temporarily closing its doors because of the air quality, though a team will remain at the facility to monitor the animals for "respiratory compromise," it said.

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