Wildfires: A devastated West Coast

A devastated West Coast

Major blazes continued to wreak havoc across vast tracts of California, Oregon and Washington, covering much of the western United States in a thick blanket of smoke blocking out the sun and turning skies orange.

Locator map of the U.S., highlighting the West Coast

WASHINGTON

FIRES

On Sep. 9

Portland

Riverside fire

Lyons

A 12-year-old

boy and his

grandmother died

Beachie Creek fire

Thick smoke

Lionshead

fire

Detroit

Mostly destroyed

Vida

Town mostly

destroyed

OREGON

Ashland

At least one death

near the town

CALIFORNIA

August complex fires

Contributing a large amount

of smoke to the

surrounding area

Plume

of smoke

Bear fire

The remains of three

victims found

Sacramento

San Francisco

San Jose

Creek fire

Tore through the Sierra

National Forest destroying

over 360 homes and

other structures

Thick smoke

Dolan fire

Satellite image: MODIS/NASA

WASHINGTON

FIRES

Hotspots detected

on Sep. 9

Coastline shrouded

in smoke

Portland

Riverside fire

Salem

Lyons

A 12-year-old boy

and his grandmother

died according to

local news reports

Beachie Creek fire

Thick smoke

Lionshead fire

Detroit

Town mostly destroyed

Eugene

Holiday farm fire

Vida

Town mostly

destroyed

OREGON

Star Mountain and

Archie Creek fires

Crater Lake

National Park

Two Four Two fire

Medford

Ashland

Fire suspected of causing

at least one death near

the town

Almeda fire

Red Salmon

Complex fires

CALIFORNIA

Butte/Tehama/Glenn

Lightning Complex fires

Plume

of smoke

August complex fires

Contributing a large amount

of smoke to the

surrounding area

Bear fire

The remains of three

victims were found in two

separate locations.

Fire spread largely unchecked

over some 97,000 acres.

Sacramento

Images on social

media showed the

San Francisco

Bay Area under

darkened orange

and red skies

San Francisco

San Jose

Creek fire

Tore through the Sierra

National Forest destroying

over 360 homes and

other structures

Thick smoke

Dolan fire

Satellite image: MODIS/NASA

Tacoma

WASHINGTON

FIRES

Hotspots detected

on Sep. 9

Coastline shrouded

in smoke

Portland

Riverside fire

Salem

Lyons

A 12-year-old boy

and his grandmother

died according to

local news reports

Beachie Creek fire

Thick smoke

Lionshead fire

Detroit

Town mostly destroyed

Eugene

Holiday farm fire

Vida

Town mostly

destroyed

OREGON

Star Mountain and

Archie Creek fires

Crater Lake

National Park

Two Four Two fire

Medford

Ashland

Fire suspected of causing

at least one death near

the town

Almeda fire

Red Salmon

Complex fires

CALIFORNIA

Butte/Tehama/Glenn

Lightning Complex fires

Towering plume

of smoke

August complex fires

Contributing a large amount

of smoke to the

surrounding area

Bear fire

The remains of three

victims were found in two

separate locations.

Fire spread largely unchecked

over some 97,000 acres.

Sacramento

Images on social

media showed the

San Francisco

Bay Area under

darkened orange

and red skies

San Francisco

San Jose

Creek fire

Tore through the Sierra

National Forest destroying

over 360 homes and

other structures

Thick smoke

Dolan fire

Satellite image: MODIS/NASA

WASHINGTON

FIRES

On Sep. 9

Portland

Lyons

A 12-year-old

boy and his

grandmother died

Thick smoke

Detroit

Mostly destroyed

Vida

Town mostly

destroyed

OREGON

Ashland

At least one death

near the town

CALIFORNIA

August complex fires

Contributing a large amount

of smoke to the

surrounding area

Plume

of smoke

Bear fire

The remains of three

victims found

Sacramento

San Francisco

San Jose

Creek fire

Tore through the Sierra

National Forest destroying

over 360 homes and

other structures

Thick smoke

Dolan fire

Satellite image: MODIS/NASA

Tacoma

WASHINGTON

FIRES

Hotspots detected

on Sep. 9

Portland

Coastline shrouded

in smoke

Riverside fire

Salem

Lyons

A 12-year-old boy

and his grandmother

died according to

local news reports

Beachie Creek fire

Thick smoke

Lionshead fire

Detroit

Town mostly destroyed

Eugene

Holiday farm fire

Vida

Town mostly

destroyed

OREGON

Star Mountain and

Archie Creek fires

Crater Lake

National Park

Two Four Two fire

Medford

Ashland

Fire suspected of causing

at least one death near

the town

Almeda fire

Red Salmon

Complex fires

Butte/Tehama/Glenn

Lightning Complex fires

CALIFORNIA

Towering plume

of smoke

August complex fires

Contributing a large amount

of smoke to the

surrounding area

Bear fire

The remains of three

victims were found in two

separate locations.

Fire spread largely unchecked

over some 97,000 acres.

Sacramento

Images on social

media showed the

San Francisco

Bay Area under

darkened orange

and red skies

San Francisco

San Jose

Creek fire

Tore through the Sierra

National Forest destroying

over 360 homes and

other structures

Thick smoke

Dolan fire

Satellite image: MODIS/NASA

While more than two dozen major blazes continued to devastate California, the neighboring state of Oregon bore the latest brunt of wildfires plaguing much of the western United States over the past week.

An unprecedented spate of fierce, wind-driven wildfires in Oregon have all but destroyed five small towns, leaving a potentially high death toll in their wake, the governor said on Wednesday, as initial casualty reports began to surface.

Smoky skies

A timelapse of satellite imagery taken Sep.9 - 9am - 8.00pm.

... while fires rage

Infrared imagery showing burning fires on the same day.

Smoke from the fires also badly degraded air quality throughout the region, adding to health hazards already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

‘Driving through hell’

Winds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) sent flames racing tens of miles within hours, engulfing hundreds of homes as firefighters fought at least 35 large blazes in Oregon with a collective footprint nearly twice the size of New York City.

Several Oregon communities, including the town of Detroit in the Santiam Valley, as well as Blue River and Vida in coastal Lane County, and Phoenix and Talent in southern Oregon, were substantially destroyed, Governor Kate Brown told a news conference.

“This could be the greatest loss in human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history,” Brown said, without providing details.

An aerial shot of burned down homes and vehicles along a road in Oregon.
Devastated homes and vehicles in the Bear Lakes Estates neighborhood after the Almeda fire in Phoenix, Oregon. Adrees Latif/REUTERS

Firefighters were forced to retreat from uncontrollable blazes while officials gave residents “go now” orders to evacuate in just minutes.

“It was like driving through hell,” Jody Evans told local television station NewsChannel21 after a midnight evacuation from Detroit, about 50 miles (80 km) west of Salem, Oregon’s capital.

Turning day into night

Smoke from the fires darkened skies and made breathing difficult as far north as Canada and stretched down the coast to Southern California.

An aerial shot of burned down homes and vehicles along a road in Oregon.
Thick smoke is seen above Salem City, Oregon, U.S., September 8, 2020. Zak Stone/REUTERS

Residents in northern California’s Bay Area woke up to a doomsday-like skyline on Wednesday, as smoke from the state’s wildfires traveled into the upper atmosphere and blocked the sunlight, casting an orange glow across the region.

“It feels like the end of the world. It’s pretty scary,” said Beth Gleghorn, a 68-year-old Berkeley resident.

“It looks like doomsday,” added resident Carljuan Anderson, a 35-year-old Oakland resident.

Images from Oakland show dark, orange skies when it would usually be daylight.

Oakland, California – 8:30-9:30a.m.
A smoky skyline in Northern California.
A highway in Northern California.
Orange skies as smoke from the state's wildfires blocked sunlight in the Bay Area of Northern California. REUTERS/CBSA

Berkeley resident Tibisay Perez, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said the orange sky was not unexpected.

“It’s amazing to see how air pollution is in our face when we have events such as biomass burning, wildfires that produce such a high density of air particles in the atmosphere that diffuses the light and this is what we’re seeing,” Perez said.

Sources:

Fire Information Resource Management System (FIRMS), NASA; Worldview, NASA. Satellite imagery used in timelapse videos from NOAA/RAMMB.

By Simon Scarr, Aditi Bhandari, Jitesh Chowdhury and Manas Sharma