Dozens of people are missing and tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes after wildfires ripped through Oregon.
Authorities in the western US state are ‘preparing for a mass fatality event’ as two large blazes threatened to merge in a heavily-populated area near Portland.
About 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated from their homes as hundreds of firefighters battled to contain an inferno that has so far burnt through 1,500 square miles – more than two times the size of London.
Governor Kate Brown said 500,000 people have also been told to be ready to evacuate.
The evacuation order came as some residents expressed a reluctance to leave after reports of looting.
Ms Brown said: ‘I know that rumours of looting are extremely alarming and that it’s unsettling not to know whether your home is still standing.
‘Let me assure you that we have the Oregon National Guard and Oregon State Police monitoring the situation and preventing looting.’
The fires have killed at least four in Oregon and 11 elsewhere. One hundred blazes are currently burning across 12 states.
The infernos have left Portland with the dirtiest air in the world, followed by San Francisco and Seattle, according to IQAir.
The Golden Gate Bridge was bathed in orange amid apocalyptic scenes this week, while Seattle’s famous Space Needle was almost impossible to see through the thick smoke.
Dryness combined with scorching heatwaves, including a day which may be the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded on the planet – 54.4C in Death Valley – have created ideal conditions for wildfires in western US.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee called the blazes the ‘climate fires’ after noting that the amount of land burnt in the past five days alone amounted to the state’s second-worst fire season.
He said: ‘This is not an act of God. This has happened because we have changed the climate.’
A one-year-old boy is thought to be the youngest victim of the fires.
One Oregon evacuee, Jody Evans, described the fires as ‘hell’ as she fled for her life.
She said: ‘Fire on both sides, winds blowing, ash flying – it was like driving through hell.’
At least one fire has been blamed on arson after a man was arrested and charged over a blaze in the south of Oregon.
Another fire in California was started by a gender reveal party.
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