Crews battle wildfires in U.S. West as smoke travels the world

PORTLAND, Ore., Sept 16- As fire crews continued to battle deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, thousands of evacuees in Oregon and other states faced a daily struggle while scientists in Europe tracked the smoke on Wednesday as it spread on an intercontinental scale. Dozens of fires have burned some 4.5 million acres of tinder-dry brush, grass…

By Deborah Bloom and Brad Brooks

PORTLAND, Ore., Sept 16 (Reuters) – As fire crews continuedto battle deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States,thousands of evacuees in Oregon and other states faced a dailystruggle while scientists in Europe tracked the smoke onWednesday as it spread on an intercontinental scale.

With state resources stretched to their limit, PresidentDonald Trump on Tuesday night approved a request from Oregon’sgovernor for a federal disaster declaration, bolstering federalassistance for emergency response and relief efforts.

Dozens of fires have burned some 4.5 million acres (1.8million hectares) of tinder-dry brush, grass and woodlands inOregon, California and Washington state since August, ravagingseveral small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killingat least 34 people.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligatedmore than $1.2 million in mission assignments to bring relief toOregon and has deployed five urban search and rescue teams tothe wildfire-torn region, the agency said in a statement onWednesday.

Search teams scoured incinerated homes for the missing asfirefighters kept up their exhausting battle.

The wildfires, which officials and scientists have describedas unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have filled the region’sskies with smoke and soot, compounding a public health crisisalready posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientists in Europe tracked the smoke as it bore down onthe continent, underscoring the magnitude of the disaster. TheEuropean Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS)is monitoring the scale and intensity of the fires and thetransport of the resultant smoke across the United States andbeyond.

“The fact that these fires are emitting so much pollutioninto the atmosphere that we can still see thick smoke over 8,000kilometers (4,970 miles) away reflects just how devastating theyhave been in their magnitude and duration,” CAMS SeniorScientist Mark Parrington said in a statement.

CAMS said it uses satellite observations of aerosols, carbonmonoxide and other constituents of smoke to monitor and forecastits movement through the atmosphere.

Eight deaths have been confirmed during the past week inOregon, which became the latest and most concentrated hot spotin a larger summer outbreak of fires across the entire westernUnited States. The Pacific Northwest was hardest hit.

The fires roared to life in California in mid-August, anderupted across Oregon and Washington around Labor Day last week,many of them sparked by catastrophic lightning storms and stokedby record-breaking heat waves and bouts of howling winds.

Weather conditions improved early this week, enablingfirefighters to begin to make headway in efforts to contain andtamp down the blazes.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection(CalFire) said 16,600 firefighters were still battling 25 majorfires on Tuesday, after achieving full containment around theperimeter of other large blazes.

Firefighters in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of LosAngeles waged an all-out campaign to save the famed Mount WilsonObservatory and an adjacent complex of broadcast transmissiontowers from flames that crept near the site.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Deborah Bloom, ShannonStapleton and Adrees Latif; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing byJonathan Oatis)

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