The Extinction Chronicles

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The Extinction Chronicles

The ‘heat dome’ explained: why the Pacific north-west is facing record temperatures

Portland and Seattle are among cities grappling with 100F-plus days in a typically moderate climate

An unprecedented heatwave has engulfed the Pacific north-west, a typically moderate climate.
An unprecedented heatwave has engulfed the Pacific north-west, a typically moderate climate. Photograph: Maranie Staab/Reuters

Hallie Golden in SeattleTue 29 Jun 2021 01.00 EDT

The Pacific north-west, known for its moderate climate, is experiencing a record heatwave. The temperatures have driven crowds to the region’s beaches, pools and air-conditioned hotels, as residents in a region with few air-conditioned households try desperately to get some relief.

Here’s what you need to know:

What’s going on?

A heatwave has engulfed the region, with both Portland and Seattle breaking record high temperatures (Portland hit 112F, while Seattle hit 104F) over the weekend. Seattle has reached 100F for three consecutive days – a first for the typically overcast city. Washington state surpassed its all-time high for June, with at least one part of the state reaching 115F on Sunday.

In many areas outside these metropolitan hubs, temperatures were even more extreme. Canby, in north-western Oregon, for example, hit 118F over the weekend, according to Nick Bond, the Washington state climatologist. At the same time, Spokane, Wenatchee and Pullman, Washington, each beat their previous record high for overnight temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

The air quality has also become a concern in some areas. On Monday, the Puget Sound clean air agency tweeted that the extreme heat had resulted in the air quality in the Cascade foothills becoming “unhealthy”.

A heat warning was in effect for most of western Canada, too. The country set its highest recorded temperature on Sunday, when the village of Lytton hit 115F (46.1C).

A thermometer reads 113F during a heat wave in Portland, Oregon.
A thermometer reads 113F during a heat wave in Portland, Oregon. Photograph: Maranie Staab/Reuters

Why is this happening?


The heatwave was caused by two pressure systems, one coming from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, and the other from James Bay and Hudson Bay in Canada, explained Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“The Pacific north-west got caught in a region where a series of feedbacks set up these very warm temperatures – no, hot temperatures – with very little cloud cover and very warm temperatures at night too,” he said.

It blows my mind that we could get these temperatures before the middle of the century, the latter part of the century

Nick Bond

And these types of extreme hot weather events are being exacerbated by global heating.

The heatwave is being described as a “heat dome”. The term refers to the idea that this type of warmth extends high into the atmosphere and isn’t just a thin layer, and that it can have an impact on pressure and wind patterns. “That is important here in the Pacific north-west with the present event because it has served to essentially shut off the flow of cool marine air off of the Pacific into the land area,” Bond said.

How unusual is it?

Bond said similar events didn’t happen often, taking place every one to three decades.

“It blows my mind that we could get the temperatures that we’re observing here in the Pacific north-west, especially on the west sides of the Cascades that [have] that proximity to the ocean, that it could get that hot for so many days in a row,” he said. “I would have been willing to guess something like that in the middle of the century, in the latter part of the century.”

Why has this been so concerning?

These temperatures, while certainly not the worst in the country, are particularly detrimental for this region. The area isn’t used to this and hasn’t adapted to these types of temperatures, explained Bond.

“When it gets really hot here, we haven’t learned how to deal with it the same way other parts of the country have,” he said.

People cool off at Willow’s Beach in Victoria, British Columbia. The heatwave has extended across the US north-west and south-western Canada.
People cool off at Willow’s Beach in Victoria, British Columbia. The heatwave has extended across the US north-west and south-western Canada. Photograph: Chad Hipolito/Reuters


He gave the example of a colleague whose apartment in Seattle reached 100F. When she looked for an air-conditioned hotel, she found most in and around Seattle sold out, and the ones that weren’t were charging hundreds of dollars for a single night.

How long will it last

Relief is on its way for some parts of the region, including Seattle and Portland, according to Bond. But they will probably still experience higher temperatures than normal over the next two weeks. That type of prolonged heat could be dangerous when it came to wildfires and extremely detrimental for land agriculture, he said.

But Bann said further inland, it would continue to be very hot, with temperatures around 113F in some areas. He said those areas would probably see high temperatures continuing into the middle or later part of this week.

How are people coping?

Across the region, residents are turning to cooling centers, beaches, pools and hotels to get some relief.

On Sunday, Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, announced the opening of the Amazon Meeting Center as a cooling center, saying it had a capacity of 1,000 people. The city has also highlighted the fact that on Saturday, “libraries and water activities saw the highest use by residents and families”.

Multnomah county, which includes Portland, has opened a series of libraries as cooling centers, as well as the Oregon Convention Center and the Arbor Lodge Shelter.

Some in these regions have taken to posting to neighborhood social media groups as they search desperately for air-conditioning units, fans or simply tricks for keeping themselves cool.

4th Wave Of COVID-19 Hospitalizations Hits Washington State

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May 11, 202111:44 AM ET


Sydney Porter of Bellevue, Wash., receives her COVID-19 vaccination from Kristine Gill, with the Seattle Fire Department’s Mobile Vaccination Teams, before the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles at T-Mobile Park on May 5 in Seattle. A late spring COVID-19 surge has filled hospitals in the metro areas around Seattle.Steph Chambers/Getty Images

As the coronavirus outbreak recedes in many parts of the U.S., the Pacific Northwest has emerged as an outlier — gripped by a late spring surge that has filled hospitals in the metro areas around Seattle and Portland.

In recent weeks, the governors of both states have hit the brakes on reopening plans in hopes of countering the rapid spread of the more contagious B.1.1.7. variant of the coronavirus, first identified in the U.K.

In Washington state, new hospital admissions for COVID-19 have been higher during this current surge than at any other time, except for this past winter.


COVID ‘Doesn’t Discriminate By Age’: Serious Cases On The Rise In Younger Adults

“We have seen a clear fourth wave of hospitalizations,” says Dr. Michael Anderson, chief medical officer for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, which has hospitals throughout Washington state. “The rise of the curves for admissions has been scary in that it has taken off so quickly.”

“Very, very” busy hospitals, restrictions remain

Similar to the national trends, the patients being hospitalized in Washington are now overwhelmingly young and middle-aged adults — not older Americans who are mostly vaccinated at this point.

“It’s keeping our system very, very busy,” says Dr. Michael Myint, infectious disease epidemiologist who leads the COVID-19 response at MultiCare, a hospital system based in Tacoma, Wash.Article continues after sponsor message

The average age of COVID-19 patients at MultiCare has fallen about a decade, which has made this latest surge more manageable because younger patients tend to have shorter hospital stays than the elderly do, he says.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has enacted a statewide pause on loosening any pandemic restrictions and put in place more stringent rules on several regions last month, including the state’s second most populous county just south of Seattle.


Tracking Coronavirus Around The U.S.: See How Your State Is Doing

“We would be dealing with a very severe wave that would probably be worse than the third wave if not for this background of vaccination,” says Dr. Joshua Schiffer, an infectious disease expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

There are several likely explanations for why Oregon and Washington are being hit with a late spring surge: how quickly the B.1.1.7 strain took off, cooler weather still keeping people indoors and the region’s relative success at fending off the virus earlier in the pandemic, which now leaves the population more vulnerable — at least until more people are fully vaccinated.

“It’s notable the states that have had lower degrees of infection have had fourth waves, so having some degree of preexisting immunity based on infection has helped certain states with this fourth wave,” Schiffer says.

Washington health officials say there are early signs that new cases may have peaked, but the outlook remains uncertain, especially given the unknowns about which other variants — not just the B.1.1.7 — may be spreading undetected.

“We may be plateauing now and the big outstanding question is how do the variants interface with each other?” asks Myint of MultiCare. “The one way that we’re going to blunt and then get over this fourth wave is really the vaccines.”

Vaccine demand slows, a renewed push in rural Wash.

Washington is firmly in the top half of states for how many people are fully vaccinated and for its rate of new vaccinations. More than half of adults in the state have had at least one dose, and in the Seattle metro area that number rises to about 70%.

But, as with much of the country, the pace of vaccination appears to be slowing down.

“Now when we post new appointments, they’re still available a week later. We’re not filling them. We are not able to deliver the vaccine that we have,” says Dr. Anderson of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.

Public health leaders are trying to be more creative with how they get shots into arms, enlisting companies such as Uber and Lyft to provide free and discounted rides to vaccination clinics.

The challenge of bringing vaccines to people — and convincing them to get it — are only amplified in rural parts of the state.


How Is The COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going In Your State?

In White Salmon, Wash., the vaccine tent outside NorthShore Medical Group is not attracting crowds of people, even though state data show that a majority of the adult population in the region has not received at least one shot.

Scott Kotlarz, who just received his second shot there, says he personally knows of two people in the state who have died during this latest surge of COVID-19, including one who was a distant relative.

“She chose not to get the vaccine,” Kotlarz says. “So now it has actually touched the family — that was my first experience of that.”

NorthShore has two clinics in the stretch of southern Washington that hugs the Columbia River Gorge, about four hours from Seattle.

“We’ve gone from the arms looking for vaccines to the vaccines looking for arms phase,” says Dr. Chris Faison, a family physician there. “We’re all realizing this is going to be a less mass vaccination, superefficient process, and it’s really going to come down to one on one conversations and actually approaching patients out in the community.”

This an expensive proposition for a rural primary care practice — one that the Biden administration hopes to encourage through a nearly $1 billion investment in rural America’s COVID-19 response.

Without extra funding, many rural practices would have to scale down their vaccination efforts because the time and manpower to do a piecemeal vaccine campaign isn’t financially feasible.

Faison cites a recent vaccine clinic NorthShore held at a nearby Catholic church, which serves the Hispanic community.

It’s an example of how providers should be reaching out to people that may not have access or information about the vaccine, he says, but ultimately only a handful people ended up getting a shot over the course of several hours.

“It’s worth paying for,” Faison says, “and it even helps the people that don’t get their shot because they see and hear that you’re part of the community, you’re there and you care.”

WA Department of Agriculture alerts chicken and poultry owners of potential bird flu threat

WAHINGTON STATE – The Washington State Department of Agriculture is warning bird feeders, farmers and hobby chicken owners about the potential threat of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus, also known as the bird flu.

According to the World Health Organization for Animal Health reports show a high number of bird flu cases spreading across several countries. And while the Avian virus has not made it to the U.S at this time, experts say it’s important to stay proactive. 

The bird flu is mostly found among wildlife birds and is not known to pose a threat to humans, however, when spread to domestic birds like chickens it has the potential to wipe out entire flocks. 

“Do as much as you can to keep your poultry separated from wild waterfowl, if your chickens are not protected from wild waterfowl they are at risk for contracting Avian Influenza from wild carriers,” said Karla Salp from the Washington Department of Agriculture. 

According to Salp it’s also important to learn about what good biosecurity practices are, “so those can be things like not working with chickens when they are sick or you are sick. Having clothing that is specifically only used for working with your poultry. And monitoring your flock to see if you notice any health issues,” said Salp. 

Salp also says if you notice a couple of sick birds call your veterinarian, but if a large number of your poultry are dying it’s important to reach out to the state’s Department of Agriculture who will come out and take a look at what is happening.

To learn more about the bird flu and how to prevent the spread of it the Washington State Department of Agriculture is holding a Defend the Flock free seminar on February 23rd. To register for the event go to: Webex Events

Rare beast visits the beach: Wolverine confirmed in Pacific County

An animal identified as a wolverine by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists was photographed scavenging a marine mammal carcass on the ocean shore near Surfside on May 23.Jennifer HenryFEATURED

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LONG BEACH PENINSULA — One of the Pacific Northwest’s most secretive and seldom-seen animals escaped to the beach during the Memorial Day weekend.

A wolverine was photographed in south Pacific County last week at two locations separated by dozens of miles. Numbering only about 300 in the lower 48 states with fewer than 50 in Washington, these bear-like members of the weasel family are legendary fighters with what a state biologist on May 26 called a “tough as nails” attitude.

To catch even a glimpse of one is a once-in-a-lifetime chance that few can hope to experience.

“On the spectrum of enigmatic beasts, it’s only slightly less mysterious than a Sasquatch,” the Oregon Zoo said in a 2012 article.

‘They live in some difficult places — it’s hard not to admire the heck out of them.’

Jeff Lewis

WDFW conservation biologist

But last week the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the authenticity of two photos of what is thought to be a young female wolverine — one that made its way between the Naselle hills and the Pacific Ocean south of Leadbetter Point in just three days.

‘Aren’t you different’

The first sighting was at about 12:15 p.m. May 20, in Naselle. Jacob Eaton, 19, took several photos of the rare creature running along a logging road and reported the sighting to WDFW.

The second sighting was at about 4:45 p.m. Saturday, May 23 north of Surfside.

While riding her fat-tire bicycle from her Surfside home to Leadbetter Point State Park earlier in the day, Jennifer Henry, 48, noticed a wake of turkey vultures feasting on a dead marine mammal washed up by the tide near the western edge of the dunes. By the time she peddled south toward home, the vultures had disappeared.

“I get up to it, and I was like, ‘Oh, there is something moving over there,’ and all of a sudden this head pops up and I was like, ‘Oh, hi there, aren’t you different,’” Henry said. She snapped a photo of a furry critter with distinctive markings that almost seemed to emerge from the carcass.

Henry at first thought she saw a badger — a weasel family member common in Eastern Washington — but when she went home and showed the photos to her husband, he identified it as a wolverine. Henry didn’t even realize wolverines existed, aside from the X-Men comic book character.

Henry reported the sighting the next day when she saw a WDFW officer on the beach.

“I asked, ‘Is it common to see wolverines here on the peninsula?’ and he was like ‘You didn’t see a wolverine,’” Henry said.

She had to show him the picture to prove it.

Traveling far and wide

The wolverine is the largest land-based member of the weasel family, according to WDFW. Females weigh about 18 to 27 pounds and males weigh 26 to 44 pounds. They are stocky with short, rounded ears, small eyes, a bushy tail, and large feet that are useful for traveling through snow.

Their fur is dark brown, but has tawny colored bands that run down both sides of its body to its tail. They’ve been described as looking something like a cross between a dog, a bear and a skunk.

Jeff Lewis is a mesocarnivore conservation biologist at WDFW. He studies smaller carnivores, such as wolverines, fishers, lynx, Cascade red foxes, martens and badgers in Washington.

Lewis confirmed the animals Eaton and Henry saw were wolverines, and the one Henry saw was possibly a female based on its size, he said.

It is also highly likely it was the same animal, Lewis said. Traveling the 40 miles from Naselle to the north end of the peninsula wouldn’t be unusual for a wolverine, which can travel enormous distances in a short time, he said.

Eaton said he didn’t remember the one he saw having white on its chest, like the one Henry saw on the beach. He was driving with a buddy near Salmon Creek in Naselle. He wasn’t sure what it was at first and just started taking pictures.

“It wasn’t too happy though, it turned around and started showing its teeth and stuff,” Eaton said.1 month free with $4 monthly digital only subscription. Promo Code: DIGI

Washington’s wolverine population is small, largely restricted to the North Cascades, and is an extension of a larger population in southern British Columbia, according to the WDFW. They have also been documented near Chinook Pass, Goat Rocks and Mount Adams in Washington’s South Cascades, and in the Selkirk Mountains of northeast Washington, according to Conservation Northwest.

Charting their travels

It is rare to see a wolverine, especially somewhere other than high-altitude, cold mountain areas, Lewis said. It’s hard to even get an accurate estimate of how many are living in Washington, because they are so elusive. They like to live apart from others of their species and they roam over large areas of land, he said.

But confirmed sightings are becoming more common since so many people are now walking around with a smartphone camera in their pocket, Lewis said.

Still, capturing two photos of the animal is really exciting, he said.

“This is one of those examples where we are actually able to document one of these long movements of wolverines away from their typical habitat,” Lewis said.

Wolverines making these kinds of journeys can explain gene flow of different wolverine genetic characteristics in broad areas. It also might help explain how wolverines can recolonize areas they’ve long been vacant from — such as in California and Colorado — where wolverines are now reestablishing a presence, Lewis said.

He is hopeful the department might get a DNA sample of the one exploring the peninsula. That would help biologists understand if it came from the Cascades or from somewhere farther away.

Subjects of litigation

The presence of a wolverine on Washington’s southernmost coast comes at a time when the species is in the news.

On March 18, Earthjustice sued the U.S. Department of the Interior on behalf of Conservation Northwest and other conservation groups to force the federal government to protect wolverines under the Endangered Species Act. Perhaps never abundant, wolverines disappeared from much of their former range by the early 1900s, and face new threats from climate change and ongoing loss of habitat, the wildlife advocates argue.

Wolverine on forest road 2
A wolverine runs along a logging road in the Naselle area.Jacob Eaton

“The wolverine is an icon of our remaining wilderness,” Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso said in a press release. “We are taking action to ensure that the wolverine gets a fighting chance for survival.”

“If you’ve ever seen a wolverine in the wild, you’re one of a very lucky few,” said Brad Smith on behalf of one of the plaintiffs in the case.

‘Tough as nails’

WDFW and the Woodland Park Zoo monitor wolverine distribution in the Cascades to evaluate the population’s response to climate change as part of the Washington Wolverine Project.

Lewis said because wolverines like to live in cold, snowy areas, WDFW is concerned to what extent the species is vulnerable to climate change.

One of wolverine’s cooler characteristics is the possibility they deliberately refrigerate meat by burying it in the snow, Lewis said. They can kill something in the summer and keep it buried to retrieve when game is more scarce.

“They are really good at exploiting the patchy food that is available to them in the wintertime,” he said. Other scientists consider ample high-elevation snowpack — something at risk as precipitation patterns change in our warming region — vital for protecting wolverine young from predators.

“They live in some difficult places — it’s hard not to admire the heck out of them,” Lewis said.

He said he hoped the one spotted in Pacific County stayed safe.

Wanda Wanderer

Wolverines are capable of incredible long-distance travels, so it’s possible the young one observed near Leadbetter Point State Park may have already exited the area. On the other hand, the extensive coastal wilderness at Leadbetter — protected both by State Parks and the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge — offers plenty of food and shelter for this rare and versatile creature.

Aaron Webster, a south Pacific County employee of State Parks, has started a Facebook page in hopes of tracking future sightings of the wolverine he has dubbed Wanda Wanderer.

“Folks, you may have heard on the news about a wolverine sighting in my area,” Webster said in a Facebook post. “I’m creating a FB page for this creature under the name Wanda Wanderer. I hope that if we have more local sightings, I can post them on Wanda’s page so people can follow her exploits. So, if you want to join in on this, just send Wanda Wanderer a friend request. If you see Wanda, post details on Wanda’s page and I will make a post about it!”

Join this effort at

News of south Pacific County’s wolverine has itself traveled far and wide, with first CNN and then a variety of other media from New York City to India doing stories sparked by the Chinook Observer’s initial story published online May 28 after our print deadline last week. The number of people who have viewed our original story is approaching 40,000 — many times our print circulation.

After another violent night of protests, Seattle police speak out about their tactics

by Kara Kostanich, KOMO News reporter Thursday, January 21st 2021AASeveral protesters in Seattle on Wednesday night. 90% Several protesters in Seattle on Wednesday night.

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SEATTLE — On a day when communities across the U.S. were celebrating the swearing in of a new commander-in-chief for the country, Seattle again garnered national attention because of a destructive protest that wound through downtown streets.

The group of demonstrators, known as “Black Bloc” protesters because they are all dressed from head to toe in dark clothing, have been linked for months to chaotic protests.

City residents said they have grown weary from the destructive demonstrations.

“It was just disgusting,” said Brent Haverman, who lives near the Seattle Police Department West Precinct building and has watched violence play out for weeks since the summer. “Yesterday was a day of peace and unity.”

Haverman said police need to do more to quell the protests.

“This should be such a simple process for them to stop these violent offenders that are destroying public, personal and federal property,” he said.

When the Wednesday protest, which started at Occidental Park, began with about 100 people calling for an end to actions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there were no Seattle police officers in sight.

But police said Thursday that the protest was on their radar.

“We were monitoring them from early on,” said Seattle Police Sgt. Randy Huserik. “We were aware of the number of demonstrations that indicated they were going to be active on Inauguration Day.”

But when the number of demonstrators started to dwindle, that’s when the destruction began.

The original Starbucks in Pike Place Market, an AmazonGo store and the federal courthouse on 5th Avenue all suffered damage during the march.

That has raised questions about why police didn’t step in earlier to diffuse the situation.

“You are running on tactic and logistics, evaluating and re-evaluating how we need to approach a group of that size,” Huserik said. “Once property destruction and damage starts to occur, then the next challenge is get people out safely, in and out of the group, and make sure we arrest the right people with a minimal use of force because we have to factor in safety for everyone involved (including) our officers and people in the crowd.”

Seattle police arrested three people, booking them on suspicion of property damage, burglary and assault.

Only one of the suspects was in court Thursday for a first appearance hearing and he was released by the judge.

Residents say they want the cycle of violent protests to end.

“Allowing this to continue because this has been going on since June is, again, unacceptable,” Haverman said.

Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz declined a request by KOMO News for an interview about the protest. And several city leaders also declined to speak in person about the protests.

Endangered wildlife, habitat burned in Washington wildfires; years of effort to boost populations wiped out

Entire wildlife areas have been destroyed and endangered populations of animals gravely depleted by wildfires burning in Eastern Washington.

Much of the area burned east of the mountains included shrub-steppe habitat. The assemblage of sage and other plants is critical to the survival of the pygmy rabbit, sage grouse, and sharp-tailed grouse.

It is still the early days in understanding the extent of the damage from the fires and how it unfolded. But wildlife managers think the Pearl Hill fire may cause a population decline of anywhere from 30% to 70% in sage grouse, bringing the statewide population to dangerously low levels.

The Pearl Hill fire is still burning, so the damage could be worse than presently understood. But managers already know that half of the sage grouse leks, or breeding areas, in the heart of the state’s endangered population in Douglas County have burned. Likely also lost is the struggling reintroduced population of sage grouse in Lincoln County.

The Pearl Hill fire started Sept. 7 near Bridgeport, Douglas County, and burned about 224,000 acres. It was mostly contained as of Tuesday.

Some, and even many of the sage grouse, may have escaped the fire. But some birds are known to have been killed. Birds forced to move also are more vulnerable to predators, because they are in new and unfamiliar territory.

Managers are working to determine the impact to the sage grouse population — and how to support the survivors through the winter, said Hannah Anderson, manager of wildlife diversity for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

For the tiny pygmy rabbit, weighing only a pound and standing not even a foot tall at maturity, the situation is grim.

One of three recovery areas for the rabbits, a federally listed endangered species, was entirely burned. Managers had learned from previous fires to disperse released rabbits to multiple areas to guard against total loss in a wildfire. But the impact to recovery is still significant.

Fire overtook breeding enclosures with a total of about 20 rabbits, as well as four release-and-acclimation pens with about 40 rabbits.

Managers are still assessing how bad the losses were for wild and free-ranging rabbits. But losses surely wiped out years of stewardship and conservation work. About half the population may be lost.

“It’s devastating,” Anderson said. “A catastrophic loss and a significant loss in recovery.

“The Pearl Hill area is where we have been putting most of our effort, and we were seeing good productivity. This year we were hoping to see a bump in population so this is pretty sad.”

Examination of the most intensely burned areas has revealed a stark reality.

“There is no refugia, no nothing, no salvage,” Anderson said.

Some habitat areas were so torched they resemble a moonscape, said Amy Windrope, WDFW deputy director.

Fires raging in West kill nearly 30, with dozens missing

“The reality is that my mom most likely didn’t make it off the mountain,” said a California woman searching for her mother.
Image: Bobcat Fire Burns East Of Los Angeles

Los Angeles County firefighters keep fire from jumping a fire break at the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest on Sept. 11, 2020 north of Monrovia, Calif.David McNew / Getty Images

By Phil McCausland

Wildfires raging in the West have killed at least 29 people with dozens of others missing and tens of thousands more in California, Oregon and Washington forced to flee their homes.

The death toll is likely to climb, with one Oregon official warning of a “mass fatality incident.”

“There are going to be a number of fatalities, folks who just couldn’t get warning in time and evacuate their homes and get to safety,” state Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps told MSNBC late Friday.

Several additional deaths in the fires in Oregon on Friday brought the total in the state so far to eight.

In California, where fires since last month have charred over 3.2 million acres and destroyed about 4,000 structures, the number of dead reached 20 on Saturday.

And in Washington, a 1-year-old boy was reported to have died in blazes that the governor called “climate fires.”

“This is not an act of God,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “This has happened because we have changed the climate.”

The land burned in Washington in just the past five days amounted to the state’s second-worst fire season, after 2015,” Inslee said.

President Donald Trump will visit California’s Sacramento County on Monday to meet with officials about the wildfires, the White House announced Saturday.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, called Cal Fire, said that over 16,000 firefighters have been called to battle the 28 major wildfires the state has faced so far this year.

Meanwhile, many of those forced to evacuate up and down the West Coast are searching for friends and family.

Image: Dolan Fire
Firefighters light a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif., on Sept. 11, 2020.Nic Coury / AP

“There are 19 individuals that we are still looking for,” Kory Honea, the sheriff and coroner of Butte County, California, said late Friday. “Our intention is to check the last known location where those individuals were.”

That hunt is deeply personal to some.

Zygy Roe-Zurz said her mother is still missing from her Berry Creek, California, home where she lived with Roe-Zurz’s aunt and uncle, who have both been confirmed dead.

“The reality is that my mom most likely didn’t make it off the mountain,” Roe-Zurz said.

Even for thousands not forced to evacuate, the wildfires have caused a loss of electricity. And in many areas, orange-hued air is fueling worries about the health effects from poor air quality due to the fires’ smoke.

Los Angeles faces the worst smog it has seen in 26 years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed Washington’s governor on Saturday afternoon, saying the country must face the challenge of climate change to mitigate the possibility of future disasters.

“The hots are getting hotter. The wets are getting wetter,” Newsom tweeted. “Climate change isn’t something that is going to happen in the future. It’s happening right NOW.”

Okanogan Sheriff: Wildfire Kills Child, Injures Parents

A 1-year-old boy has died after his family was apparently overrun by flames while trying to flee a giant wildfire burning in northeastern Washington state.

U.S. News & World Report

The Associated Press

A helicopter flies over fires burning on a ridge in Sumner, Wash., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Windblown wildfires raging across the Pacific Northwest destroyed hundreds of homes in Oregon, the governor said Wednesday, warning: “This could be the greatest loss of human life and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.” (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A 1-year-old boy has died after his family was apparently overrun by flames while trying to flee a giant wildfire burning in northeastern Washington state, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said Wednesday.

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The child’s injured parents were discovered Wednesday morning in the area of the Cold Springs Fire, which is burning in Okanogan and Douglas counties, Hawley said.

The sheriff’s office received a report of a missing family on Tuesday, and found the family’s wrecked and burned vehicle that day, but no sign of the three family members.

“The family was attempting to leave their property to get away from the Cold Springs Fire,″ Hawley said in a press release.

Searchers on Wednesday morning discovered the three family members along the banks of the Columbia River, Hawley said. The boy was already dead, he said.

All three were badly burned and were transported by boat by workers for the Colville Tribe to Bridgeport State Park. An ambulance then took them to a hospital in Brewster, Hawley said.

Parents Jacob Hyland, 31, and Jamie Hyland, 26, both of Renton, Washington, were flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment of third-degree burns, Hawley said. The hospital listed them in critical condition.

Okanogan County sheriff’s detectives and Colville Tribal Police detectives are investigating the child’s death, Hawley said.

The Cold Springs Fire, along with the nearby Pearl Hill Fire, have burned a combined 337,000 acres (136,379 hectares) across several counties in the northeastern part of the state. There is zero containment on the Cold Springs Fire.

Also burning in eastern Washington is a 100,000-acre (40,468 hectare) wildfire near the town of Davenport. That fire is 5% contained.

Wildfires kill seven and displace thousands in Oregon, California and Washington

  • Oregon faces fire conditions unseen in decades
  • Governor Kate Brown warns of further hardship
An orange-grey smoke-filled sky above Estacada, Oregon, as fires burn nearby. The Oregon forestry department fire chief warned of ‘unprecedented times’.
 An orange-grey smoke-filled sky above Estacada, Oregon, as fires burn nearby. The Oregon forestry department fire chief warned of ‘unprecedented times’. Photograph: Deborah Bloom/AFP/Getty Images

Wildfires searing through the American west have killed at least seven people, leveled entire neighborhoods and displaced tens of thousands, forcing stretched firefighting crews to make tough decisions about where to deploy.

In Oregon, fire conditions not seen in three decades fueled huge blazes that have killed at least three people, destroyed at least five towns and forced the evacuation of communities from the southern border to the Portland suburbs. In Washington state, a one-year-old boy died after his family was apparently overrun by flames trying to flee a wildfire.

And in northern California’s Butte county, where the town of Paradise was devastated by the deadly Camp fire in 2018, at least three people have died and 12 are missing amid the North Complex fire currently burning through the region.

More than 17,000 firefighters are involved in battling the blazes.

Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, on Wednesday warned her state may see more hardship, warning of what could be “the greatest loss of life and structures due to wildfire in state history”.

Doug Grafe, the chief of fire protection at the Oregon forestry department, said the emergency comes amid “unprecedented times”.

Two of the deaths occurred in Marion county, where the sheriff late on Wednesday confirmed two people fleeing the uncontained Santiam fire had been found dead in their car. The sheriff’s office later posted a news story to their Facebook page, identifying the pair as a 12-year old boy and his grandmother.

The deaths occurred 30 miles downstream from Detroit, Oregon, one of five towns in the state that Brown said had been “substantially destroyed” in a series of conflagrations concentrated in the state’s more populous western third. The fires have already consumed “hundreds of homes”.

The Santiam fire forced the evacuation of the whole of the eastern portion of Marion county, and shrouded Salem in thick smoke, which cast an eerie, blood red light on Oregon’s state capital for much of Wednesday.

Another death was confirmed in Jackson county in the state’s far south, where Sheriff Nate Sickler told a press briefing the Almeda fire had claimed at least one life. That fire started in Ashland on Tuesday and moved quickly north, destroying the towns of Talent and Phoenix, and forcing the evacuation of much of the city of Medford.

Sickler said that fire is now the subject of a criminal investigation, which is seeking to determine whether it was deliberately lit.

Two other towns that were destroyed, Blue River and Vida, are located on the banks of the McKenzie River, east of the city of Eugene, and some 60 miles south of the Santiam Canyon.

This week’s fires did not just affect rural areas: Wednesday saw evacuation orders in Clackamas county, including south-eastern suburbs of Portland, and rural parts of Washington county, which also takes in the city’s western suburbs.

An orange sky filled with wildfire smoke hangs above hiking trails at the Limeridge Open Space in Concord, California.
 An orange sky filled with wildfire smoke hangs above hiking trails at the Limeridge Open Space in Concord, California. Photograph: Brittany Hosea-Small/AFP/Getty Images

By Wednesday evening, that city was blanketed with smoke from fires burning around its forested south-eastern fringe, and in rural areas to the south-west.

The explosion of fires across the region were stoked by dry winds, and a record heat wave – and fueled widespread drought, which dried out vegetation into kindling.

The early part of the week saw gusts of up to 50mph in western areas, downing trees and power lines in Portland and other cities. The rare weather, more characteristic of winter storms in the region, was accompanied by historically low relative humidity.

The conditions led to an unprecedented “extremely critical” fire weather warning for southern Oregon on Monday, and only the second such warning in state history for northwest Oregon.

A week earlier, on 3 September, parts of the Portland metro area recorded their highest ever temperature for that date. Like much of the rest of the country, Oregon has recorded higher than average temperatures throughout the summer. In addition, much of the state, including Jackson county, is in moderate to severe drought, with Oregon’s climate office pointing to extremely dry soils as a contributing factor to the wildfires.

In Washington state, a one-year-old boy died after his family was apparently overrun by flames while trying to flee a wildfire, Okanogan county sheriff Tony Hawley said. Fires have more than 750 sq miles (1,900 sq km) of forest, brush and shrubland in the state, the governor, Jay Inslee, said on Wednesday.

Inslee said low humidity, high temperatures and winds combined to make the blaze probably one of “the most catastrophic fires we’ve had in the history of the state”.

“California, Oregon, Washington, we are all in the same soup of cataclysmic fire,” the governor said.

California, which has been battling a barrage of fires since August, has within the last few weeks seen the first, third, fourth, ninth, 10th and 18th-largest wildfires in state history, according to the National Weather Service.

 California governor on wildfires: ‘No patience for climate change deniers’ – video

By Thursday, the deadly North Complex fire, which has been growing explosively, has displaced about 20,000 and destroyed 2,ooo structures, authorities said. The town of Oroville, which three years ago was evacuated when heavy rains threatened to collapse a major dam, were evacuated once again as the flames charged toward it.

“Time and time again we have seen how dangerous wildfires can be. So I ask that you please, please, please be prepared, maintain situational awareness and heed the warnings,” said the Butte county sheriff, Kory Honea.

In the town of Paradise, Wednesday’s conditions – cherry skies and falling ash – reminded many of the fire that killed 85 people in 2019. “It was extremely frightening and ugly,” said former mayor Steve “Woody” Culleton. “Everybody has PTSD and whatnot, so it triggered everybody and caused terror and panic.”

Even in the midst of its dry, hot, windy fire season, California has experienced wildfires advancing with unprecedented speed and ferocity. Since the middle of August, fires in California have killed 12 people, destroyed more than 3,600 buildings, burned old growth redwoods, charred chaparral and forced evacuations in communities near the coast, in wine country north of San Francisco and along the Sierra Nevada. Authorities said the August Complex fire is now officially the largest fire on record in the state’s history, having scorched more than 736 square miles (1,906 square km).

In some areas of the San Francisco Bay Area and to the east in the Sacramento Valley, smoke blocked out so much sunlight on Wednesday that it dropped the temperature by 20 to 30 degrees over the previous day, according to the National Weather Service.

The US Forest Service, which had taken the unprecedented measure of closing eight national forests in southern California earlier in the week, ordered all 18 of its forests in the state closed Wednesday for public safety.

Fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. People in foothill communities east of LA were warned to be ready to flee, but the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds were weaker than predicted.

“We’re encouraged that the wind activity appears to be dying down,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The rest of the week looks a little more favorable.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Widow recounts call with farmworker husband who died of COVID-19 in Okanogan labor camp

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 7, 2020

These quarters are part of a Gebbers Farms' seasonal labor camp in Okanogan County. This photo was taken before the coronavirus pandemic had arrived and the wearing of masks was required.  (Courtesy of Gebbers Farms)
These quarters are part of a Gebbers Farms’ seasonal labor camp in Okanogan County. This photo was taken before the coronavirus pandemic had arrived and the wearing of masks was required. (Courtesy of Gebbers Farms)
By Hal BerntonSeattle Times

Earl Edwards was a Jamaican farmer who in the winter grew ginger, garlic and other crops on his tropical island nation homeland in the Caribbean. For the past decade, he would head north each year for seasonal work at the Gebbers Farms in Washington’s arid Okanogan County. This year, he did so amid a global coronavirus pandemic that sickened him and – on July 31 – took his life.

His death is now part of an ongoing state investigation into conditions at Gebbers Farms labor camps.

The 63-year-old spent his final days in an isolation camp, talking several times a day to his wife, Marcia Smith Edwards. He told her he was weak and sick and hoped to return to Jamaica.

“He said, ‘I want to come home. … I am feeling like a fish out of water. … Nobody cares for us here,’” Marcia recalls.

Edwards’ widow is grieving, and she is angry. She says her husband should have been monitored more closely by a doctor or other trained medical professional at the isolation camp, and that Gebbers Farms should have offered him more support.

Edwards’ death due to COVID-19 complications – confirmed to The Seattle Times by the Okanogan County coroner – is the second coronavirus death of a guest worker employed at Gebbers Farm. Some workers now say they want to leave early.

Amy Philpott, a spokeswoman for Gebbers Farms, said the company sent someone daily to check on workers in the isolation camp – including Edwards, who Philpott said had appeared to be improving – and provided free food and medicine, as well as help filling out forms for any state financial assistance available to those unable to work.

Marcia said she was not aware of anyone checking on her husband in the days before he died.

State and county involvement

Even before Edwards’ death, Gebbers Farm was the target of a Washington state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigation into compliance with state rules to slow the virus’s spread. At least 120 workers have tested positive and at least another 156 have shown symptoms and been quarantined.

In July, as part of its investigation, L&I made a rare move by issuing “an order and notice of restraint” that required Gebbers to either remove bunk beds in camps or comply with a state rule that camp workers be in groups that live, travel and labor together.

L&I spokesperson Tim Church said the company had requested a variance to allow larger groups to be formed, but that request hadn’t been granted.

In a July statement, Gebbers Farms chief executive Cass Gebbers said the state’s “accusations … are simply false” and that workers already are properly separated into distinct groups that live and work together, although the company cannot dictate what happens during off-duty hours.

This week – in a separate educational effort – state L&I and Employment Security Department staff spoke with some 200 workers to provide information about workplace safety, paid sick leave and other state benefits.

State and county officials have been scrambling to grasp the scope of the virus’ spread in Okanogan County, which – though largely rural and sparsely populated – is now one of the Northwest’s hot spots. Most of the county’s nearly 800 cases have been in the Brewster area, where Gebbers Farms is headquartered. Beginning next week, state National Guard members from Washington state will help provide mobile testing around the county, said Lauri Jones of the Okanogan County Health District.

County officials have praised Gebbers’ efforts to control the coronavirus at its network of Okanogan County labor camps. And Philpott says the company is following all recommended federal guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our hearts go out to the more than 700,000 families around the world who have lost loved ones to this unprecedented global pandemic. We will continue to support the health and well-being of our employees and our community by following public health recommendations,” Philpott said in a statement.

A different view of the situation has emerged from interviews with guest workers by a United Farm Workers investigator who traveled to Okanogan County earlier this week. At a camp south of Brewster, Mexican workers told the union they feared the virus, and many of their colleagues already had quit their jobs and headed home before the start of the upcoming apple harvest season.

They said they were wary of acknowledging illness symptoms to supervisors and getting sent to recover in an isolation camp, where they worried they’d get inadequate care and lose wages for missing work days.

“They were scared of those camps,” said Victoria Ruddy, the Pacific Northwest regional director for the United Farm Workers, which does not represent any Gebbers employees but has been looking into the situation due to calls from concerned workers.

Ruddy said she visited an isolation camp with six workers, none of whom said they were receiving care from a medical professional.

Some Jamaican workers also are deciding they want to end their jobs with Gebbers, according to one worker, who said he was living with six other men in a small camp cabin.

“Earl Edwards was a friend of mine. I feel so bad for him. If a guy is sick, you should pay him better attention,” said the worker, who insisted on anonymity due to concerns about workplace retaliation.

Philpott said she didn’t know how many workers were heading home early but that some opt to do so every year.

Testing was another concern. Workers told Ruddy they’d heard from their colleagues about coronavirus tests that could cost hundreds of dollars. So, even if they felt sick, they were reluctant to go to town to see a doctor.

A Brewster hospital official said some free community testing has been available to those who couldn’t pay, but if workers showed up at the hospital emergency room with symptoms, they would typically have been billed.

“Your husband is not well”

Marcia Smith Edwards said her husband typically did outdoor work for Gebbers Farms, which is a major Eastern Washington fruit producer. But this year, he had a difficult indoor job working in a fruit packing plant.

One night, he called her to say he wasn’t going to work because he felt a bit stuffy and was coughing. She urged him to see a doctor who could test for COVID-19, which he did. But during his 10 days in the isolation camp, she said, he was never able to learn the results. (A postmortem test on Edwards came back positive, said Okanogan County Coroner David Rodriguez.)

Edwards also took his wife’s advice to try some home remedies, such as boiled ginger. But his symptoms persisted, and he kept telling her, “Your husband is not well.”

The couple have two daughters, one of whom was the last to speak to Edwards.

“He said, ‘I love you, and I’m going to get a shower,’” Marcia Smith Edwards recalled him saying to their daughter.