The West Coast of the United States was blanketed by a dark orange sky on Wednesday as wildfire smoke plunged wide swaths of the region in darkness and sent ash raining from the sky.
Dozens of gargantuan fires are burning in California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. Blazes in Oregon surpassed 330,000 acres. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and tens of thousands of people evacuated.
“We expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and in human lives,” said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”
The first recorded casualties were a 12-year-old boy, identified as Wyatt Tofte, and his grandmother, Peggy Mosso, who died Wednesday morning near Lyons, Oregon, local authorities told news station KOIN. Wyatt had reportedly fled his home as the Beachie Creek and Lionshead wildfires, reportedly started by downed power lines, threatened it the day before. The boy’s mother is reportedly in serious condition from her burns. Tofte’s great-grandfather founded a local amusement park, the Enchanted Forest.
Authorities in Butte County, California, where the Bear Fire grew to 254,000 acres on Wednesday, said at least three deaths had resulted from the blaze, though identification of the victims was still underway.
Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said late Wednesday that an unidentified child had died in the Cold Springs fire, which has so far consumed 163,00 acres in the central part of the state.
One fire in Northern California grew by more than a quarter of a million acres in one night, fueled by a heat wave and fast, dry winds. Fires have already consumed more than 2.5 million acres in California this fire season, making it the most dire in state history even before the halfway point passes. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that the peak of the ongoing disaster was still yet to come.
San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area remained dark throughout Wednesday afternoon. A mixture of smoke and the city’s characteristic fog lay heavy over the metropolis and occluded the sun, according to the National Weather Service.
Likewise, Oregon saw its skies darken with smoke. Wildfires at both states continue to grow, and officials expect to wage war against them for the better part of a month.