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West Coast fires: As firefighters hope to gain ground on some fires, others prompt more evacuations

CNN logo CNN 9/18/2020 By Christina Maxouris, CNN
a man standing in front of a fire: A firefighter watches the Bobcat Fire burning on hillsides near Monrovia Canyon Park in Monrovia, California on September 15, 2020. (Photo by Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images) © Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images A firefighter watches the Bobcat Fire burning on hillsides near Monrovia Canyon Park in Monrovia, California on September 15, 2020. (Photo by Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images)

With rain finally arriving in parts of the West Coast, fire officials hope the forecast will help them gain ground on the deadly wildfires that forced thousands to evacuate this week.

Much of the rain will drop over the west slopes of the Cascade Mountains, exactly where Oregon Department of Forestry fire chief Doug Grafe would "ask for it," he says.

Rain is forecast for parts of Oregon and Washington but there's little rainfall in sight for California, where officials warned warm and dry conditions will elevate the danger of fire over the weekend.

The state has seen more than 3.4 million acres scorched so far this year, killing 25 people and reducing hundreds of homes to embers.

Fresh evacuations were ordered Thursday in parts of southern California threatened by the Bobcat Fire which has torched more than 55,000 acres and is 9% contained, according to the US Forest Service.

It's one of about 59 uncontained large fires burning across the US West, according the National Interagency Fire Center.

Together, blazes in the three states have burned more than 5.8 million acres, a spokesperson and a report from the NIFC say. At least 34 people have died.

Many still leaving their homes behind

California authorities ordered residents to leave communities around Juniper Hills Thursday, following "rapid" growth of the Bobcat Fire.

'We got everything together, all of our valuables, things we wanted to have, paperwork and stuff like that, pictures," Juniper Hills resident Peter Trono told CNN affiliate KCAL.

Video: Fire victims get first look at homes destroyed by wildfires (CNN)


"I hope my neighbors all get out and they're all safe," he said. "And I just pray we come back to a home and if we don't, it's just stuff, right?"

Similar scenes have played out across the state in past weeks, as violent flames forced residents out of their homes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says climate change is to blame.

"The fundamental facts cannot be denied," the governor said. "The trendlines are not going in the right direction."

Since the beginning of the year, California has seen nearly 7,900 wildfires, CAL Fire says. More than 6,200 structures across the state have been damaged or destroyed.

In Riverside County, a fire that started Thursday has already grown to 1,200 acres and is 0% contained. A community near the Snow Creek Fire was ordered to evacuate Thursday afternoon, CNN affiliate KTLA reported.

New danger looms

In Oregon, Sen. Jeff Merkley says surveying the damage looked like a "World War II ground hit by fire bombing and thousands of homes destroyed, residences destroyed."

"A lot of them are apartment buildings and mobile home parks, manufactured housing parks, so a lot of the families who had very modest housing, the most affordable housing, the housing is gone. We had commercial districts burnt to the ground. It's overwhelming."

The ground that's been destroyed can give way to another danger now looming: mudslides.

"Recently burnt ground has a better chance of erosion/mudslides," the National Weather Service in Pendleton, Oregon said. "Know when you are in relation to them."

Mudslides can occur when burned ground that's missing the vegetation which stabilizes the soil grows heavy with rainwater and, unable to hold its weight, begin flowing down a slope, gathering debris and speed as it goes.

"They can flow rapidly, striking with little or no warning at avalanche speeds -- faster than you can run," Clackamas County emergency officials said, according to CNN affiliate KATU.


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