(CNN)With some neighborhoods in ashes, residents of Oregon, California and Washington states shared harrowing tales of survival after a series of wildfires left 15 people dead.
With their homes in ashes, residents share harrowing tales of survival after massive wildfires kill 15
Overwhelmed firefighters struggled to contain the massive orange flames as rescue workers searched through communities burned to the ground. As of Friday morning, they had discovered at least 11 victims in California and a total of four others in Washington state and Oregon.
Oregon resident Tiffany Lemmerz said she’s lost everything, but is just glad her family’s alive. One of several wildfire raging in the state arrived at her doorstep while she was at work Monday. Her daughter, 6, niece and sister were in her house in Blue River.
As she was rushing home to get them, she got into a wreck, she told CNN affiliate KOMO. She pleaded with a sheriff deputy to give her a ride home, but they couldn’t make it with the flames. The blaze was so fiery, it melted the back of her car.
Firefighters from the Junction City Fire and Rescue rushed to her home and got them out.
“My kids’ 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.”
In Oregon, numerous wildfires have killed at least three people and nearly wiped out the southern cities of Phoenix and Talent. Authorities have said they fear they’ll find more bodies as they access more neighborhoods.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency Thursday night, closing city parks and activating evacuation sites for people in threatened areas. About a half million people have fled their homes in Oregon — more than 10% of the state’s population. And that number is expected to grow.
Thirty-seven wildfires remain active in the state — down from nearly 50 earlier this week. The blazes have scorched about 900,000 acres across the state, the Oregon governor’s office said.
The scope is unprecedented. For the past ten years, the state has seen an average of 500,000 acres burned each year.
Adding to the grim outlook, Wheeler’s emergency order says the city has limited firefighting resources because some have been deployed to assist in other parts of the state.
Kristen Marin lives north of San Francisco in Mendocino County, where a wildfire has turned the skies a dull orange color.
“It feels a little like doomsday,” Marin told CNN affiliate KNXV. “It felt like it was night all during the day time. The air quality was awful. The crickets were chirping. The floodlights were on, thinking it was dark. Everything is covered in ash. It smells like smoke. You’d think that you were in a fireplace.”
There are 14,000 firefighters battling 29 major wildfires across California. The massive August Complex fire burning in Northern California is now the largest blaze in the state. It’s scorched over 471,000 acres since it was sparked by lightning last month, and was 24% contained by early Friday.
“It was terrifying,” resident Nancy Hamilton told CNN of the fires that tore through the Berry Creek area. “It was a beast. The thing is a beast.”
While the full extent of the damage remains unclear in many communities, the wildfires have taken a toll on human lives. Authorities found seven bodies in Northern California on Thursday as firefighters battled multiple ravaging wildfires, raising the total number of victims in the state to 10.
Another blaze — the North Complex fire — has consumed about 250,000 acres and was 23% contained as of Thursday.
In the central California mountains, the Creek Fire has destroyed more than 360 structures, fire officials said. It’s now grown to more than 175,000 acres and is 6% contained.
Fire officials issued evacuation orders and warnings across several parts of the state including in Southern California, where the El Dorado Fire continues to burn parts of San Bernardino County and is 18% contained. In San Diego County, the Valley Fire — which has burned more than 17,000 acres — also prompted several evacuation orders and warnings.
Statewide, more than 2.5 million acres have been scorched this year alone, according to Cal Fire, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has pointed to climate change as a primary factor in the wildfires.
“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.”
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.
“Five minutes after, I walked out the door. It was crawling through trees,” the 71-year-old told CNN affiliate KIRO. “And you can’t believe how fast those embers were flying at you.”
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 16 wildfires burning in the state have scorched about 600,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. A 1-year-old boy was killed and his parents were badly burned as they tried to escape the wildfire in Washington, officials say.
The family was visiting their property in a rural area west of Spokane and evacuate in the middle of the night when the wildfire got closer. They abandoned their vehicle and ran to a river to escape the menacing flames, CNN affiliate KCRA reported. The couple was rescued from the river but their son did not make it.
“The enormity of these fires, the geographical scope, the intensity, and the destruction are unequal in Washington State history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.