Wildfires continued to rage out of control throughout the West Coast on Wednesday, with one small Oregon town nearly wiped off the map by fast-moving flames, authorities said.
Officials in Talent on Wednesday told their 6,600 residents — about 10 miles south of Medford, Oregon, and 300 miles north of Sacramento, California — to stay outside of city limits because there’s scant electricity and it’s not safe stepping around fallen power lines.
While City Hall, the police department and other government buildings survived, there were whole neighborhoods and blocks of businesses completely gutted by the blaze.
“The fire ripped through the core of our (Oregon Route) 99 corridor,” the main stretch of town, Talent Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood told NBC News. “Where it burned, it burned completely and totally. I’m exhausted and shocked by it.”
City officials were hoping that their fast-acting residents, who evacuated Tuesday and Wednesday, would keep deaths at zero.
“I believe that most everyone is safe, it could have been far worse,” Ayers-Flood said.
Gov. Kate Brown enacted a fire conflagration act for the first time in state history, with at least 35 fires scorching more than 300,000 acres of land in Oregon.
“Our number-one priority right now is saving lives,” Brown said on Twitter Wednesday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfires in our state’s history.”
She also said during a press conference Wednesday that a number of towns in Marion, Lane, and Jackson counties have been “substantially destroyed,” according to NBC affiliate KGW.
Meanwhile, up the road in Medford, residents in the southern end of the city were ordered to evacuate on Wednesday as the Almeda Fire made its way north.
And to make matters worse, another blaze dubbed the Obenchain Fire was gaining strength north of Medford, according to Jackson County Emergency Management, prompting more evacuation orders.
“Level 3 (evacuation order), that’s as serious as it gets,” Rudy Owens, spokesman for the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, said of the emergency actions taken in and around Medford.
Huge swaths of tinder-dry brush across the western U.S. were ablaze on Wednesday as firefighters battled flames, hot weather and high winds.
There were 14,000 firefighters on the lines in California as 28 wildfires burned out of control, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
The Creek Fire in Fresno County, which began Friday night, had consumed more than 163,000 acres by Wednesday morning, officials said.
And remarkably, three other fires still burning on Wednesday — the August Complex, SCU Lightning Complex and LNU Lightning Complex blazes — were classified as the second, third and fourth biggest wildfires in state history, firefighters said Wednesday.
While these flames were burning well outside the state’s biggest cities, flames were clearly visible in large urban cores.
An eerie orange and brown glow filled the sky above the Bay Area, a mixture of fog and smoke from the fires that cast San Francisco in a perpetual rust colored haze on Wednesday.
Citing the “unprecedented” and “historic fire conditions” in California, 10 national forests were ordered closed on Wednesday, meaning that all 18 national forests in the state will be shut down by 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday.
“These temporary closures are necessary to protect the public and our firefighters, and we will keep them in place until conditions improve and we are confident that National Forest visitors can recreate safely,” Regional Forester Randy Moore said in a statement.
Wildfires in the state of Washington also continued to burn on Wednesday, with more than 576,400 acres charred since a series of blazes were touched off on Labor Day, said state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Joe Smillie.
Matteo Moschella and Whitney Lee contributed.