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What's next? Devastating fires are latest challenge in West

Oregon Governor Kate Brown toured the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Ore., Saturday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2020, where she spoke with volunteers and...
An injured cat named Prince is being treated for third degree burns on his paws, stomach and face by technician assistant Kaity Kelsey, left, and Vet ...
George Coble walks through what remains of a home on his property destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Mill City, Ore. (AP Photo/John ...
George Coble carries a bucket of water to put out a tree still smoldering on his property destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Mill Ci...
George Coble douses a still smoldering tree at his property destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Mill City, Ore. (AP Photo/John Locher...
A person rides a bike along the Willamette River as smoke from wildfires partially obscures the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in ...
A man stops on his bike along the Willamette River as smoke from wildfires partially obscures the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, i...
Smoke from wildfires fills the sky over Pasadena, Calif., in this view looking east down Colorado Boulevard on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. The air was c...
Cat food and water are seen as residents try to find lost pets who went missing during wildfires in Talent, Ore., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, as destructi...
Lexi Sovllios from Talent, Ore., holds her dogs as she looks at the ruins of her burned house in Talent on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, as destructive wild...
Jackson County District 5 firefighter Captain Aaron Bustard works on a smoldering fire in a burned neighborhood in Talent, Ore., Friday, Sept. 11, 202...
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...
A burned residence is seen as destructive wildfires devastate the region on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Talent, Ore. (AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
Jackson County District 5 firefighter Captain Aaron Bustard, right, and Andy Buckingham work on a smoldering fire in a burned neighborhood as destruct...
Firefighters monitor a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (A...
Firefighters light a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (AP ...
Oregon Governor Kate Brown toured the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Ore., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, where she spoke with volunteers and evacuees....
Brenda Pearson, left, Marion County's Emergency Management field branch manager, greets Oregon Governor Kate Brown, second right, before touring her t...
Erik Tucker carries a bucket of water to put out hot spots in an area around his home burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in L...
Erik Tucker pours water on a smoldering stump in an area around his home burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Lyons, Ore. Tu...
A sign advises to social distance at a marina building on Detroit Lake burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Detroit, Ore. (A...
Boats are partially obscured by smoke from a wildfire at a marina on Detroit Lake burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Detro...
An injured cat named Prince is being treated for third degree burns on his paws, stomach and face by technician assistant Kaity Kelsey,  left, and Vet...
A burned cat temporarily named Chestnut is seen recovering from her injuries at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center (SOVSC) which is a 24/...
An injured 8 week old kitten with facial burns is being treated at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center (SOVSC) which is a 24/7 hospital de...

Oregon Governor Kate Brown toured the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Ore., Saturday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2020, where she spoke with volunteers and...

An injured cat named Prince is being treated for third degree burns on his paws, stomach and face by technician assistant Kaity Kelsey, left, and Vet ...

George Coble walks through what remains of a home on his property destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Mill City, Ore. (AP Photo/John ...

George Coble carries a bucket of water to put out a tree still smoldering on his property destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Mill Ci...

George Coble douses a still smoldering tree at his property destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Mill City, Ore. (AP Photo/John Locher...

A person rides a bike along the Willamette River as smoke from wildfires partially obscures the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in ...

A man stops on his bike along the Willamette River as smoke from wildfires partially obscures the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, i...

Smoke from wildfires fills the sky over Pasadena, Calif., in this view looking east down Colorado Boulevard on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. The air was c...

Cat food and water are seen as residents try to find lost pets who went missing during wildfires in Talent, Ore., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, as destructi...

Lexi Sovllios from Talent, Ore., holds her dogs as she looks at the ruins of her burned house in Talent on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, as destructive wild...

Jackson County District 5 firefighter Captain Aaron Bustard works on a smoldering fire in a burned neighborhood in Talent, Ore., Friday, Sept. 11, 202...

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...

A burned residence is seen as destructive wildfires devastate the region on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Talent, Ore. (AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)

Jackson County District 5 firefighter Captain Aaron Bustard, right, and Andy Buckingham work on a smoldering fire in a burned neighborhood as destruct...

Firefighters monitor a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (A...

Firefighters light a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (AP ...

Oregon Governor Kate Brown toured the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Ore., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, where she spoke with volunteers and evacuees....

Brenda Pearson, left, Marion County's Emergency Management field branch manager, greets Oregon Governor Kate Brown, second right, before touring her t...

Erik Tucker carries a bucket of water to put out hot spots in an area around his home burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in L...

Erik Tucker pours water on a smoldering stump in an area around his home burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Lyons, Ore. Tu...

A sign advises to social distance at a marina building on Detroit Lake burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Detroit, Ore. (A...

Boats are partially obscured by smoke from a wildfire at a marina on Detroit Lake burned by the Beachie Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Detro...

An injured cat named Prince is being treated for third degree burns on his paws, stomach and face by technician assistant Kaity Kelsey, left, and Vet...

A burned cat temporarily named Chestnut is seen recovering from her injuries at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center (SOVSC) which is a 24/...

An injured 8 week old kitten with facial burns is being treated at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center (SOVSC) which is a 24/7 hospital de...

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The path of devastation spans thousands of miles where flames have consumed people, homes and cars while leaving a barren, gray landscape.

But the massive wildfires aren't done chewing through the West, shrouding the skies with choking smoke or driving residents from their homes.

It’s an ominous harbinger of fall for the region that was the first to be hit hard by the coronavirus and where the cries for social justice have rung especially loud this summer with protests in Portland for more than 100 days.

“What’s next?” asked Danielle Oliver, who had to flee her home southeast of Portland ahead of the deadly flames. “You have the protests, coronavirus pandemic, now the wildfires. What else can go wrong?”

She’s one of tens of thousands of people displaced by wildfires in Oregon, California and Washington state. Many more are living with air contamination levels at historic highs. The region’s death toll has topped 30 and could increase sharply, with Oregon officials saying they are preparing for a possible “mass casualty event" if more bodies are found in the ash.

Among the people killed was Millicent Catarancuic, who was found near her car on her 5-acre home in Berry Creek, California. At one point she was ready to evacuate with her dogs and cats in the car. But she later changed her mind as the winds seemed to calm and the flames stayed away.

Then the fire changed direction, rushing onto the property too quickly for her to leave. She died, along with her animals.

“I feel like, maybe when they passed, they had an army of cats and dogs with her to help her through it,” said her daughter, Holly Catarancuic.

George Coble lost everything just outside Mill City, Oregon — his fence-building business, five houses where his family lived and a collection of vintage cars, including a 1967 Mustang.

“We’ll just keep working and keep your head up and thank God everybody got out,” Coble said.

In a town nearby, Erik Tucker spent the day coated in ash and smudged with charcoal, hauling buckets of water through what remained of his neighborhood to douse hot spots.

“No power, debris everywhere, smoke, can’t breathe,” he said, his words sparce in the air thick with ash.

Fire-charred landscapes looked like bombed-out cities in Europe after World War II, with buildings reduced to charred rubble piled atop blackened earth. People caught in the wildfires died in an instant, overcome by flames or smoke as they desperately tried to escape.

California has borne the brunt of the death toll so far, as more than two dozen active major fires have burned thousands of square miles. President Donald Trump plans to visit Monday for a briefing.

Some of the worst blazes were still burning in northeastern Washington and Oregon. The Democratic governors of all three states have said the fires are a consequence of global warming.

“We absolutely must act now to avoid a future defined by an unending barrage of tragedies like the one American families are enduring across the West today,” said Joe Biden, the party’s presidential nominee.

The dry, windy conditions that fed the flames were likely a once-in-a-generation event, said Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon. The warmer world can increase the likelihood of extreme events and contribute to their severity, he said.

There was some good news Saturday: The same smoke that painted California skies orange also helped crews corral the state’s deadliest blaze this year by blocking the sun, reducing temperatures and raising humidity.

Smoke created cooler conditions in Oregon as well. But it was also blamed for creating the dirtiest air in at least 35 years in some places, “literally off the charts,” the state’s environmental quality spokesperson, Laura Gleim, said.

In Portland, smoke filled the air with an acrid metallic scent like dull pennies. It was so thick that Ashley Kreitzer could not see the road when she headed to work as a driver for a ride-hailing service.

“I couldn’t even see five feet ahead of me,” she said. “I was panicking, I didn’t even know if I wanted to go out.”

People stuffed towels under door jambs to keep smoke out or wore N95 masks in their own homes.

Meanwhile, there was political turmoil as Oregon's fire marshal was forced out while a half-million state residents were under evacuation warnings or orders to leave. Details were scarce on why he was put on leave then resigned amid a nearly unprecedented disaster.

Oliver, 40, who fled her Portland-area home, has an autoimmune disorder. She was nervous about going to a shelter because of the coronavirus, but her other option was sleeping in a car with her husband, 15-year-daughter, two dogs and a cat.

The temperature checks and social distancing at the American Red Cross shelter helped put her mind at ease. Oliver has lived through homelessness before and now can only hope the family's house survives.

“I’m tired. I’m tired of starting all over,” she said. “Getting everything, working for everything, then losing everything.”

___

Whitehurst reported from Portland. Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Mill City, Oregon, Gene Johnson in Seattle and Adam Beam in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-07 07:18 GMT+08:00