At least eight people have died as California firefighters battled the state’s largest ever inferno on Thursday.
Thousands of residents have fled the US West Coast, running from blazes that have destroyed numerous homes and properties. Meanwhile, officials have warned the death toll could expand in days to come.
The August Complex Fire is the biggest recorded blaze in Californian history, resulting after multiple fires in the state’s northwest combined amid high temperatures and winds to rip through 470,000 acres of dry vegetation.
Much of the smoke reportedly blew down from the north, where the Bear Fire exploded at an unexpected speed this week, combining with older blazes to threaten the town of Oroville.
By Thursday it had covered 250,000 acres and was only 23 percent contained.
Evacuation warnings were expanded to parts of the town of Paradise, the site of California’s deadliest modern fire which killed 86 people less than two years ago.
California has recorded over 3.1 million acres burn this year — an annual record, with nearly four months of fire season still to come. The heaviness of the fires have been blamed on climate change.
In neighboring Oregon, at least five towns have been reported as “substantially destroyed” and up to 40,000 people evacuated, governor Kate Brown said twice the state’s annual average had burned in just the past 72 hours.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state,” she told a press conference.
“We know that there are fire related fatalities. And as soon as we are able to provide confirmed information, we will do so.”
Local Oregon officials have confirmed two deaths in the Santiam Canyon region, 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Portland, and another was recorded in the Ashland area, near the California border.
Entire communities have burned down as wildfires continue to rage in the western United States, with officials raising alarm of potential mass deaths.
Among those killed in the past day was a one-year-old boy who died while his parents suffered severe burns as they attempted to flee an inferno 130 miles east of Seattle.