World

Wildfires destroy Washington town, roar through California, Oregon

80% of homes and other buildings destroyed as people flee 'incredibly fast' blaze

SACRAMENTO: Uncontrolled wildfires driven by high winds and unprecedented temperatures raged across the US West on Tuesday, incinerating the Washington town of Malden and threatening communities in Oregon and California.

Firefighters and emergency responders searched on Tuesday for residents of tiny Malden, about 480km east of Seattle, a day after a firestorm destroyed 80 per cent of its homes, along with the fire station, post office, city hall and library.

"The scale of this disaster really can't be expressed in words," said Mr Brett Myers, sheriff of Whitman County, where the town of 200-300 people is located. "I pray everyone got out in time."

The fire that destroyed Malden erupted at about noon on Sunday and was driven by 65kmh winds that blew directly into the town, Mr Myers said in an interview.

The authorities went door to door ordering evacuations before the blaze arrived.

The fire engulfed most of the town over the course of about three hours, he said.

"It moved incredibly fast," Mr Myers said.

That fire was one of dozens of large blazes burning in Washington, Oregon and California over the Labour Day holiday weekend, as the temperature soared.

The western part of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley hit 49 deg C.

In California, about 14,000 firefighters battled 25 blazes, with more than 890,300ha charred since the fire season got an early start last month, a record for this point in the year, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Tuesday. The state's peak fire season has yet to begin.

In Oregon, several communities were evacuated and the first day of school postponed, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

About 100,000 customers lost power amid windstorms and fire, and power was shut off to about 5,000 residents west of Mount Hood to prevent sparks that might start new blazes, it said.

The US is not the only country battling enormous fires.

In Greece, thousands of migrants fled fires early yesterday that tore through an overcrowded camp under coronavirus lockdown on the island of Lesbos, but there were no reports of any casualties.

A migration ministry official said the Moria camp, which hosts over 12,000 people, was "probably totally destroyed". - REUTERS

WORLD