'Mass Fatality Event' Looms in One State

But changing weather might help firefighters in Oregon and California
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 12, 2020 12:00 PM CDT
Oregon Plans for 'Mass Fatality Event'
Ellie Owens, 8, from Grants Pass, Ore., looks at fire damage Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, as destructive wildfires devastate the region in Talent, Ore.   (AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)

Diminishing winds and rising humidity helped firefighters battling deadly blazes in Oregon and California, but with dozens of people still missing, authorities in both states feared that the receding flames could reveal many more dead across the blackened landscape, the AP reports. Oregon's emergency management director said officials were preparing for a possible "mass fatality event." In California, smoke that painted skies orange also helped crews corral the state's deadliest blaze of the year. The smoke helped blocked the sun, reducing temperatures and raising humidity, officials said. Nine people, including a 16-year-old boy, have been confirmed dead in California since lightning-caused fires that started weeks ago fused into a monster blaze.

Oregon authorities have not released an exact death count, but at least eight fatalities were reported from the blazes that have taken a toll from one end of the state to the other. Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that tens of thousands of people had been forced to flee their homes. Two large blazes threatened to merge near the most populated part of Oregon, including the suburbs of Portland. More than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, having been told to leave or to prepare to do so, Brown said. The governor dialed back a statement late Thursday by the state Office of Emergency Management that said a half-million people had been ordered to evacuate statewide.

(More wildfires stories.)

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