Americas

‘Everybody is scared but we’re hopeful’: Oregon town tries to stay positive in the face of fires

The pall hanging over Oregon is literally breathtaking.

The wildfire smoke is a choking shroud hundreds of miles long and it is impossible to escape.

It pervades in a remarkable way – even, alarmingly, into the cabin of planes descending into Portland airport.

It is a reminder of just how unprecedented these fires are in the Pacific North West. One of the states most blessed by nature, now suffering nature’s wrath.

Tens of thousands of Oregonians have been driven from their homes. Hundreds will find those homes gone when they return. Dozens are still posted as unaccounted for. Thirty-one people across three states – Oregon, Washington and California – are confirmed to have died.

The landscape is eerie. A yellow fog blanketing everything. Ghostly figures emerge and fade. It is a spooky backdrop for communities now on edge.

The stories are beginning to emerge of heartbreaking loss in Oregon, of those who couldn’t outrun the flames. Tragically there will be many more of those stories in the days to come.

In Molalla, a town under evacuation orders with a huge fire on its doorstep, some hardy locals have stayed behind. Ashley Bentley marshals volunteers to distribute supplies to those in need.

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“We’re a little bit rebellious,” she said. “We just can’t sit around doing nothing so we got to get our hands dirty.

“I think everybody is scared, fire scares people, but I think we’re hopeful.”

Just down the road, a row of broken pianos sits on the pavement, adding a surreal touch to the feel of Molalla as a ghost town.

Police have urged people to stop spreading rumours of looting and arson. But while we were in Molalla a man was arrested on suspicion of burglary at a building that had been evacuated. A man is also in custody charged with starting one of the biggest fires in the south of the state.

The president will be over the border in hard-hit California on Monday. He has always dismissed the role of climate change in these intensifying wildfire seasons. It puts him at odds with many who are dealing with the reality.

Better weather and a forecast of rain is bringing some comfort to Oregon but it will take a massive recovery operation to put lives back together.

And until the smoke lifts no one will feel at ease.

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