Smoke from wildfires that posed a health hazard to millions of people suffocated the West Coast on Saturday as firefighters battled deadly fires that destroyed some cities and displaced tens of thousands, the latest in a series of calamities. this year.
For people already suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic fallout, and political tensions evident in the Black Lives Matter protests and far-right counter-protests, the fires added a new layer of misery.
“What’s next? You have the protests, the coronavirus pandemic, now the wildfires. What else can go wrong?” Lamented Danielle Oliver, 40, of Happy Valley, southeast of Portland.
The death toll from the California, Oregon and Washington fires rose to 31 and is expected to rise sharply. Most of the deaths occurred in California and Oregon.
Oregon’s director of emergency management said officials were preparing for a possible “mass death event” if many more bodies turn up in the ashes. And the state fire marshal resigned after being abruptly put on administrative leave. The state police superintendent said the crisis called for an urgent response that required a change of leadership.
Oliver has an autoimmune disorder that makes her vulnerable to wildfire smoke, so she agreed to evacuate. She was nervous about going to a shelter because of the virus, but sleeping in a car with her husband, 15-year-old daughter, two dogs and a cat was not a viable option.
Temperature controls and social distancing at the American Red Cross shelter helped reassure her. Now the family waits, hoping their house will survive. She has previously experienced homelessness.
“I’m tired. I’m tired of starting over. Getting everything, working for everything and then losing everything,” he said.
Those who still had homes were not safe in them. Half a million Oregonians were under evacuation warnings or orders to leave. With air pollution levels at record highs, people placed towels under door jambs to keep smoke out. Some even wore N95 masks in their own homes.