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Crews battle deadly wildfires in US amid ‘apocalyptic’ scenes of ruin

Published: Updated:

With resources stretched to the limit, weary crews fought to make progress on Thursday against deadly wildfires sweeping the western US, with a US senator who toured hard-hit Oregon saying it looked like the aftermath of World War Two firebombings.

Scores of fires have burned some 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) in California since mid-August and another 1.6 million acres (647,500 hectares) in Oregon and Washington state since Labor Day on Sept. 7, laying waste to several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and claiming at least 34 lives.

US Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon described driving 600 miles (965 kilometer) in his state to get a firsthand look at the devastation, visiting refugee centers, fire control centers and towns burned by the blazes.

“That 600 miles, I never got out of the smoke. I remember fires in the past where I was driving and I would be in the smoke for 20 or 30 minutes - that’s a big fire. This is apocalyptic,” Merkley told CNN. “To see ... these towns burnt to the ground, it looks like a World War Two town hit by firebombing - thousands of homes destroyed, residences destroyed.”

The West Coast wildfires have filled the region’s skies with smoke and soot.

Air quality along portions of the western US coastline, from Olympic National Park in Washington state to San Francisco, was the clearest in days on Thursday. Smoke levels abated enough on Wednesday that environmental agencies lifted an air quality advisory for coastal Oregon and southeastern Washington.

Several miles (kilometer) inland, air in the Oregon cities of Portland, Salem and Bend still registered as “hazardous” on Thursday, according to a state air quality tracking site.

Simultaneous fires along the West Coast have stretched the resources of Oregon, California and Washington state to their limit, particularly in Oregon, where fires rarely affect the normally rainfall-rich Cascade Mountains as they have this year.

Eight deaths have been confirmed in Oregon. Nearly 4,000 evacuees remained displaced, according to the American Red Cross. In California, authorities said 17,000 firefighters were battling 25 major fires on Wednesday, as the state’s death toll stood at 25. One fire-related fatality has been confirmed in Washington state.

Nearly 8,000 homes and other structures have been destroyed by fires in the three states.

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