oregon resident
Oregon resident: We didn't think it'd get this devastating
02:43 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Deadly wildfires have blanketed swaths of the West Coast with unhealthy smoke, complicating efforts to fight the blazes and find dozens of missing people, and compounding the misery of thousands who’ve been displaced.

“You just never believe it’s all going to go up in flames,” Marian Telersky, who lost her home in the southern Oregon city of Talent, told CNN affiliate KOBI. “It’s a lot to handle.”

Fires have killed at least 28 people in the three contiguous West Coast states since mid-August, including 19 in California, many of them in the past few days.

Blazes this week have killed a 1-year-old boy and another child in Washington and eight people in Oregon, including a teenage boy who in his last moments huddled with his dog inside a car that was engulfed in flames.

Thousands have fled their homes in Oregon alone, including Lori Johnson, who was awakened in the middle of the night by law enforcement shortly before fire consumed her home in Mill City.

“I got out with no socks, no nothing – literally, the clothes on our backs,” she told CNN affiliate KATU from Salem, where she and her family are staying temporarily while trying to figure out what do next.

Across the West, 97 large fires were burning Saturday, including 12 in Idaho and nine in Montana, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Federal air quality monitors are warning that smoke is making for unhealthy air Saturday in most of California, Oregon and Washington and parts of Idaho. That smoke could make people more vulnerable to Covid-19, doctors say.

Personnel search for the remains of fire victims in the Bear Lakes Estates neighborhood in Phoenix, Oregon, on Saturday, September 12.

In California, three of the five largest wildfires in the state’s history are burning now, officials say. Little rain, high temperatures and strong winds helped set the stage for the flames and fuel them. And officials say it may take a long time for them to stop.

At least eight of Oregon’s wildfires are expected to burn “until the winter’s rains fall,” Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe said Friday.

Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia’s department is fighting fires with 500 personnel, when it usually has 1,000 to 1,500, he said Saturday. Some firefighters are working more than 24 hours in a shift, he said. The Bobcat Fire northeast of Los Angeles is tearing through the mountainous national forest.

“This system is very, very well taxed right now with a number of large fires that are that are scattered, but particularly in California,” Garcia said, adding that it’s common for firefighters to work over 24 hours on a shift until relief comes.

With the current strain on the system, though, Garcia said “that relief isn’t coming in necessarily in 24 hours. So we’re having to find ways to maximize rest periods throughout the day.”

‘We saw the perfect storm’

At least eight of Oregon’s wildfires are expected to burn “until the winter’s rains fall,” said state Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe.

Nailah Garner’s dream home in Vida, Oregon, was reduced to ashes. She and her husband left their home on Monday after receiving a “Go now” alert on their phone while still in bed, according to CNN affiliate KOMO. She only found out about her home because her friend called her.

“It’s all gone and it’s like, it looks like a war zone hit it,” Garner told KOMO through tears. “She had sadness in her voice, I could totally tell.”

Carolee Brown told CNN she has relocated twice this week because of evacuation orders. She’s been losing sleep, constantly monitoring her home’s security camera online to see if it’s still standing. As of Saturday morning, it was.

“It’s unreal. You can’t really fathom what is going on,” she told CNN in Marion County. “You take what you think (you should), and you just get out.”

Two victims identified by the Marion County Medical Examiner’s Office were Wyatt Tofte, 13, and Peggy Mosso, 71, both of Lyons, about 60 miles southeast of Portland.

Two victims identified by the Marion County Medical Examiner’s Office were Wyatt Tofte, 13, and Peggy Mosso, 71, both of Lyons, Oregon, more than 60 miles southeast of Portland.

Wyatt was found in a car with his dog in his lap while Mosso, his grandmother, was found in another car nearby. Her daughter and Wyatt’s mother, Angela, attempted to save her and was badly burned. Two other victims were located but have not been recovered because of treacherous conditions.

Two other victims were located but have not been recovered due to “treacherous conditions,” the release said.

One person has died in the Holiday Farm fire, another died in the White River fire and two people have died in the Almeda Drive fire, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

The state is preparing for a “mass fatality incident” based on how many structures have been charred, Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said Friday.

Dozens of people are missing, mostly across Jackson, Lane and Marion counties in western Oregon, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.

The Beachie Creek Fire left neighborhoods in rubble and has scorched more than 186,000 acres.

“We had 29 houses on our block,” Monica Garrison told CNN affiliate KATU. “We have 10 left.”

The Beachie Creek Fire is the largest in the state and has no containment, officials say. Firefighters are racing to slow the blaze down before it merges with the nearby Riverside Fire, which has burned more than 130,000 acres.

About 500,000 people in the state are under some type of evacuation alert. Evacuation orders have been issued for more than 40,000, Brown said.

A man stops on his bike along the Willamette River as smoke  partially obscures the Tilikum Crossing Bridge on Saturday in Portland, Oregon.

On top of all of this, Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker resigned Saturday following an announcement that he was placed on paid administrative leave, Oregon State Police said. State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton accepted Walker’s resignation, the alert said.

Walker was originally placed on leave due to an “internal personnel investigation,” Capt. Timothy Fox with Oregon State Police told CNN in an email.

Fox did not elaborate on what the investigation entailed. Walker was appointed to fire marshal in 2014.

Mariana Ruiz-Temple was subsequently appointed to state fire marshal, according to police. She has worked for the fire marshal’s office since 1995, according to Fox.

‘Never seen anything like this’

In California, firefighters are battling more than two dozen major fires across the state, but officials expressed hope Saturday that improving weather conditions will boost firefighters’ efforts to control the flames.

Just northeast of Los Angeles, the Bobcat Fire is tearing through the mountainous Angeles National Forest – and contributing to smoky air in the area.

“Thirty-plus years ago, I quit smoking. But I’ve started again in the last six days just from (breathing) the air,” Mike Day, of nearby Monrovia, told CNN on Saturday.

Fires in the state have burned more than 3.2 million acres so far, many times higher than what was burned by this time last year, according to Cal Fire. More than 4,000 structures have been destroyed this year, fire officials said.

In the Sierra Nevada range north of Sacramento, the North Complex Fire has torn through the Berry Creek community and Plumas National Forest since a lightning storm sparked it August 17, consuming more than 252,000 acres.

That fire has killed at least nine people, including a 16-year-old boy who was fleeing the area in his vehicle, Butte County authorities say. More than a dozen were missing, the sheriff’s office said this week.