Some Oregon communities burned to the ground this week and about 500,000 people have been either ordered to evacuate or warned to be prepared to evacuate. State officials say they are focusing their efforts on saving lives but they anticipate a devastating aftermath.
“We know we are dealing with fire-related deaths, and we are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,” Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, told reporters Friday.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that wildfires have consumed more than 1 million acres and dozens of people remain missing.
Authorities had said the number of deaths linked to the North Complex Fire were 10 but the Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Friday that deputies discovered an anatomical skeleton model made out of resin in a storage shed and believed it was a human body.
Eventually, firefighters led them and 30 other families to the parking lot of a running track, where they kept spot fires at bay throughout the early hours of Tuesday. Only hours later could firefighters lead them away in a car caravan, he said.
“We went by many, many homes that were still in flames on both sides of the river,” he told KVAL. Much of Blue River, a community of a few hundred people, was destroyed, the governor has said.
More than 10% of Oregon’s population told to evacuate
The governor called the scope unprecedented. For the past 10 years, the state has seen an average of 500,000 acres burned each year.
Tiffany Lemmerz of Blue River lost everything, but her family survived, she said. One of several wildfires blazing in the state arrived at her doorstep Monday while she was at work. Her daughter, 6, niece and sister were in her house.
Firefighters from Junction City rushed to the home and got her relatives out.
“My kid’s alive, that’s all I care about,” Lemmerz told the affiliate. “I can’t say anything else. My kid is alive, and it was very close.”
Wyatt Tofte, 13, was found dead in a car with his dog on his lap, a family spokeswoman told CNN, and his grandmother, 71-year-old old Peggy Mosso who was inside another car was also killed.
“We lost two really beautiful people,” said Susan Vaslev, a spokeswoman for Enchanted Forest, a local amusement park owned and operated by the Tofte family.
Wyatt was “just the sweetest little boy; loved to fish, played video games, like a lot of kids, just a very sweet, polite boy,” Vaslev said.
He didn’t immediately recognize her, and when he told her he was searching for his wife and son, she said, “I am your wife,” the Statesman Journal reported.
California: ‘You’d think that you were in a fireplace’
Seven bodies were found Thursday in areas scorched by that blaze, raising the total killed in the North Complex fire alone to at least 10.
“Wildfires are a big part of the seasonal challenge,” Newsom said. “The challenge we’re facing now is the extreme fire events that we believe are climate induced.”
A 1-year-old dies in Washington
Washington state resident Darrell Herde woke up to a stranger pounding on his door this week. He barely escaped.
“He was yanking on my door and telling me to run. I thought he was a little nuts. I didn’t think it was that bad,” said Herde, a resident of Graham.
Later, he found his home a pile of rubble. Now, he just has the clothes on his back.
“Someplace in that pile, there is my mother’s rings, and it tore my heart out,” he said. “That’s something that sort of killed me this morning. The rest of this stuff — it’s stuff that you can replace.”
“The enormity of these fires, the geographical scope, the intensity and the destruction are unequal in Washington state history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.
CNN’s Stella Chan, Sarah Moon, Shawn Nottingham, Jon Passantino, Joe Sutton and Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.