Half a million people have been forced to leave their homes in the US state of Oregon as deadly wildfires, not seen in decades, are raging across the Pacific northwest.
The blazes searing through the American west have killed at least 15 people, leveled entire neighborhoods and forced stretched firefighting crews to make tough decisions about where to deploy.
State officials said on Thursday that 500,000 people were evacuated as dozens of blazes are sweeping Oregon, with some of them suspected to have deliberately been set.
The number of those evacuated amounts to over 10% of the state’s 4.2 million population.
The blazes have burnt more than 900,000 acres in the last few days, according to Governor Kate Brown.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” she said. “This will not be a one-time event. Unfortunately, it is the bellwether of the future. We’re feeling the acute impacts of climate change,” she added.
Brown said there are known fatalities as a result of the fires, but the exact number of lives lost remains unknown. A 12-year-old boy and his grandmother are confirmed to be among the Oregon victims.
Over 17,000 firefighters are currently struggling to contain the blaze.
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management said wildfire activity was made even more dangerous in northwestern Oregon as hot, windy conditions continued.
Uncontrolled wildfires driven by high winds and unprecedented temperatures raged across the US West on Tuesday.
Three law enforcement agencies in Oregon, including the Ashland Police Department and the State Police, have opened an investigation into the suspicious origins of the wildfire that began in the town of Ashland and destroyed hundreds of homes.
“We have good reason to believe that there was a human element to it,” said Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara.
More than 100 wildfires are currently scorching 12 western US states, including Oregon, California and Washington.