More than 1,300 firefighters are tackling the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, currently the largest fire in the US, after reports that more than a million acres across 12 states have been razed by fires.
The Bootleg Fire roared across an area larger than New York City, destroying 20 houses and threatening 2,000 structures just north of California.
“Most of them all say, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this,’” Gert Zoutendijk, a fire marshal from Lake Oswego, just south of Portland, told local news.
Families told TV news outlet KPTV that they escaped the fire with minutes to spare. Tim McCarley described the blaze as a “firenado”.
“Sixty, 70, 80 feet, catch these trees over here and then just explosions – boom, boom, boom, boom as these trees were exploding,” he said.
The National Weather Service tweeted late Wednesday that a “terrifying” satellite image showed gigantic clouds fuelled by smoke and hot air had formed over the fire — a sign that the blaze was so intense it was creating its own weather, with erratic winds and the potential for fire-generated lightning.
The wildfires are being driven by the climate crisis which is exacerbating droughts and broiling heatwaves in the American West.
In Washington, the Red Apple Fire in Chelan County, around 100 miles east of Seattle, saw around 1,000 homes evacuated.
In north-central Washington, about 200 people in the town of Nespelem on Colville tribal land were evacuated on Monday as wildfires caused by dozens of lightning strikes tore through parched vegetation.
The state’s Governor Jay Inslee announced a statewide drought emergency on Wednesday as at least five large fires raged in the state. The declaration means the water supply is projected to drop below 75 per cent of average.
“This is the summer of climate change,” he said.
A total of 16,650 wildland firefighters and support personnel are on the ground across states.
The National Interagency Fire Center, the national support centre for wildland fires, raised the US’s national preparedness level to 5 on Wednesday due to “significant fire activity occurring in multiple geographical areas”.
The centre said that it was the earliest it had gone to level 5 in a decade.
In California, a wildfire erupted close to the town of Paradise, which is still in the rebuilding process after the deadliest fire in recent US history struck the town in 2018.
By Thursday, the wildfire was moving away from homes there but into national forest land in neighbouring Plumas County.
There was zero containment and officials said people in the tiny, remote communities of Pulga and east Concow should prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.
This article is being updated. AP contributed to this report