Wildfires searing through the American west have killed at least 15 people, leveled entire neighborhoods and forced stretched firefighting crews to make tough decisions about where to deploy.
The situation is especially acute in Oregon where fire conditions not seen in three decades have fueled huge blazes that have killed at least three people, destroyed at least five towns and forced the evacuation of communities from the southern border to the Portland suburbs, reports the Guardian.
More than 500,000 people in Oregon have been forced to evacuate as unprecedented wildfires rage across the state, amounting to more than 10 percent of the population, authorities said Thursday.
On Thursday night, Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration in the state, enabling federal assistance to bolster local efforts.
Oregon's governor, Kate Brown, said on Thursday that more than 900,000 acres have burned across the state in the last several days – nearly double the amount of land that usually burns in a typical year.
"We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state," Brown said.
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management said wildfire activity was made even more dangerous in northwestern Oregon as hot, windy conditions continued. Arson investigators have opened a probe into the suspicious origins of a deadly fire that began in the town of Ashland and destroyed hundreds of homes.
In northern California's Butte county, where the town of Paradise was devastated by the deadly Camp fire in 2018, at least 10 people have died and 16 are missing amid the North Complex fire currently burning through the region.
More than 17,000 firefighters are involved in battling the blazes.
Brown said there have been fatalities in Oregon but the exact number is not yet known. There have been at least three reported fire deaths in the state. Two of the deaths occurred in Marion county, where the sheriff late on Wednesday confirmed two people fleeing the uncontained Santiam fire had been found dead in their car. The sheriff's office later posted a news story to their Facebook page, identifying the pair as a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother.
The deaths occurred 30 miles downstream from Detroit, Oregon, one of five towns in the state that Brown said had been "substantially destroyed" in a series of conflagrations concentrated in the state's more populous western third. The fires have already consumed "hundreds of homes".
The Santiam fire forced the evacuation of the whole of the eastern portion of Marion county, and shrouded Salem in thick smoke, which cast an eerie, blood red light on Oregon's state capital for much of Wednesday.
Another death was confirmed in Jackson county in the state's far south, where Sheriff Nate Sickler told a press briefing the Almeda fire had claimed at least one life. That fire started in Ashland on Tuesday and moved quickly north, destroying the towns of Talent and Phoenix, and forcing the evacuation of much of the city of Medford.
Sickler said that fire is now the subject of a criminal investigation, which is seeking to determine whether it was deliberately lit.
Two other towns that were destroyed, Blue River and Vida, are located on the banks of the McKenzie River, east of the city of Eugene, and some 60 miles south of the Santiam Canyon.
This week's fires did not just affect rural areas: Wednesday saw evacuation orders in Clackamas county, including south-eastern suburbs of Portland, and rural parts of Washington county, which also takes in the city's western suburbs.
By Wednesday evening, that city was blanketed with smoke from fires burning around its forested south-eastern fringe, and in rural areas to the south-west.
The explosion of fires across the region were stoked by dry winds, and a record heatwave – and fueled by widespread drought, which dried out vegetation into kindling.
The early part of the week saw gusts of up to 50mph in western areas, downing trees and power lines in Portland and other cities. The rare weather, more characteristic of winter storms in the region, was accompanied by historically low relative humidity.
The conditions led to an unprecedented "extremely critical" fire weather warning for southern Oregon on Monday, and only the second such warning in state history for north-west Oregon.
A week earlier, on September 3, parts of the Portland metro area recorded their highest ever temperature for that date. Like much of the rest of the country, Oregon has recorded higher than average temperatures throughout the summer.
In addition, much of the state, including Jackson county, is in moderate to severe drought, with Oregon's climate office pointing to extremely dry soils as a contributing factor to the wildfires.