Showers bring relief to fire-ravaged Oregon as death toll rises in California

GATES, Oregon: Intermittently heavy showers brought some relief to flame-stricken western Oregon on Friday (Sep 18), helping firefighters to further subdue deadly blazes that have ravaged much of the state and choked its air with smoke for the better part of two weeks.

Oregon was especially hard hit by scores of wind-driven wildfires that erupted all at once across the western United States earlier this month in the midst of catastrophic lightning storms, record-breaking heat and howling winds.

Advertisement

Advertisement

"We lost everything, but we will start all over again," said Bill Kesselring, 73, pointing to the spot where the log cabin he shared with his wife had stood on the outskirts of Gates, Oregon, a Cascade Mountain village almost 130km south of Portland.

READ: Thousands of Oregon evacuees shelter from wildfires under smoke-filled skies

The cabin and a garage housing a beloved antique car Kesselring had just finished restoring were both reduced to charred rubble. Only the fireplace and chimney remained of the home.

"It breaks my heart. You work hard all your life and then get hit with a disaster like this," he told Reuters.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Unaccustomed to the sheer scope and magnitude of the conflagrations, Oregon's ill-equipped firefighters initially struggled for days to even keep pace with the blazes, before cooler, moister and less windy weather settled over the region, and reinforcements could arrive.

ANOTHER LIFE LOST IN CALIFORNIA

By Thursday, officials in Oregon, Washington state and California said they were making steady progress suppressing the fires. Brightening the outlook further, much-welcomed rains doused Oregon on Friday, even as the tri-state death toll from the fires rose to 35.

The US Forest Service in California reported that a firefighter had perished on Thursday in a blaze still burning nearly two weeks after it was ignited by pyrotechnics at an outdoor gender-reveal party east of Los Angeles.

Authorities withheld the identify of the fallen firefighter pending notification of family members, and no details of the circumstances were released.

READ: Thousands of firefighters battle US West Coast blazes amid 'overwhelming' ruin

The death in the San Bernardino National Forest became the 26th fire-related fatality in California over the past month. That tally includes two other firefighters – a Forest Service contractor killed in a lightning-sparked fire in the Mendocino National Forest, and a private helicopter pilot whose chopper crashed on a water-dropping mission in Fresno County last month.

Wildfires have claimed at least eight other lives in Oregon and one in Washington state, all civilians.

Flames have blackened a record 1.3 million hectares in California alone since mid-August. Another 650,000 hectares have burned in Oregon and Washington state since Labor Day.

The blazes, described by scientists and officials as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have largely incinerated several small towns, along with thousands of dwellings.

READ: Smog blankets US West Coast as deadly wildfires rage

"BEAUTY SCAR"

Thousands of evacuees, particularly in Oregon, remained huddled in emergency shelters, mobile trailers and hotel rooms. And Oregon emergency management officials have warned the death toll there could climb as search teams scour the ruins of homes engulfed in flames during chaotic evacuations early in the disaster.

Justin Gaskill, 28, a US Army veteran leading a community watch organization thaRead More – Source