Death toll in fires raging in West rises to nearly 30, with dozens missing


Wildfires raging in the West have killed nearly 30 people with dozens of others missing and tens of thousands more in California, Oregon and Washington forced to flee their homes.

The death toll is likely to climb, with one Oregon official warning of a "mass fatality incident."

"There are going to be a number of fatalities, folks who just couldn't get warning in time and evacuate their homes and get to safety," state Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps told MSNBC late Friday.

An additional four deaths in the fires in Oregon on Friday, two in Jackson County and two in Marion County, brought the total in the state so far to eight.

In California, where fires since last month have charred over 3.2 million acres and destroyed about 4,000 structures, the number of dead reached 20 on Saturday.

And in Washington, a 1-year-old boy was reported to have died in blazes that the governor called "climate fires."

“This is not an act of God,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “This has happened because we have changed the climate.”

The land burned in Washington in just the past five days amounted to the state’s second-worst fire season, after 2015," Inslee said.

President Donald Trump will visit California's Sacramento County on Monday to meet with officials about the wildfires, the White House announced Saturday.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, called Cal Fire, said that over 16,000 firefighters have been called to battle the 28 major wildfires the state has faced so far this year.

Meanwhile, many of those forced to evacuate up and down the West Coast are searching for friends and family.

Image: Dolan Fire (Nic Coury / AP)
Image: Dolan Fire (Nic Coury / AP)

"There are 19 individuals that we are still looking for," Kory Honea, the sheriff and coroner of Butte County, California, said late Friday. "Our intention is to check the last known location where those individuals were."

That hunt is deeply personal to some.

Zygy Roe-Zurz said her mother is still missing from her Berry Creek, California, home where she lived with Roe-Zurz's aunt and uncle, who have both been confirmed dead.

"The reality is that my mom most likely didn't make it off the mountain," Roe-Zurz said.

Even for thousands not forced to evacuate, the wildfires have caused a loss of electricity. And in many areas, orange-hued air is fueling worries about the health effects from poor air quality due to the fires' smoke.

Los Angeles faces the worst smog it has seen in 26 years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed Washington's governor on Saturday afternoon, saying the country must face the challenge of climate change to mitigate the possibility of future disasters.

"The hots are getting hotter. The wets are getting wetter," Newsom tweeted. "Climate change isn’t something that is going to happen in the future. It’s happening right NOW."