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At least 7 dead, including 1-year-old boy, in West Coast wildfires

A series of fast-moving wildfires threatened communities in three states along the West Coast on Sept. 9. (Video: The Washington Post)
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At least seven people, including a 1-year-old boy, have died in California, Oregon and Washington state amid the scores of wildfires burning throughout the American West, officials announced Wednesday.

Fueled by powerful winds, the West Coast wildfires have forced thousands in the region to flee from their homes during an unprecedented season that continues to devastate communities and alter lives up and down the coast. While the total number of fatalities from the historic blazes remains unclear, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) warned the coming days would be “extremely difficult” in a state where a number of towns have already been decimated.

“We expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and in human lives,” said Brown at a Wednesday news conference. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”

Details about those killed in the wildfires began to emerge late Wednesday. Officials in northern Washington state announced a 1-year-old boy died in the Cold Springs Fire and his parents were severely burned in the blaze. Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said in a news conference that his office received a call on Tuesday afternoon about Jacob and Jamie Hyland, a young couple from Renton, Wash., who were reported missing while visiting Okanogan with their son.

Hawley said the family attempted to escape the fire as it approached the property where they were staying. Rescuers first found their truck, which was burned and wrecked, and then located the family on the bank of the Columbia River on Wednesday morning. The parents had third-degree burns and were flown to a Seattle hospital for treatment. But their 1-year-old, identified by extended family members on a GoFundMe page as Uriel, died before authorities arrived.

“It’s a huge loss to lose anybody and especially a 1-year-old baby,” Hawley said.

A family member said on GoFundMe Jamie, 26, and Jacob, 31, suffered burns to large portions of their bodies and faced surgeries. Hawley said they remained in critical condition.

The Cold Springs Fire, which started Sunday night near Omak, Wash., and quickly spread due to strong winds, had burned for 163,000 acres and was at zero percent containment as of late Wednesday, according to KING 5. The child’s death is technically being investigated as a homicide to see whether the blaze was “a human-caused fire,” said the sheriff, who described the boy’s death as “an extreme tragedy.”

“This child would not be dead without this fire beginning,” he said.

In southwestern Oregon, where wildfires stretching for thousands of acres have ripped through the area this week, authorities confirmed remains of one person were found in Ashland, near the origin of the Almeda Fire. Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler told reporters Wednesday that the blaze, which has ravaged the cities of Medford, Talent and Phoenix, has turned into a criminal investigation, with police saying the wildfire began in the area of a BMX park in Ashland. The Almeda Fire has affected 3,000 acres and remains at zero percent containment.

Sickler added the remains found might not be the only fatality from the fire and the investigation was in its early stages, according to the Medford Mail Tribune.

“This is an event that is larger than anything I’ve been a part of with regards to the loss of property and the destruction to the community,” Sickler said.

Thousands evacuated as ‘once in a generation’ fires burn through Oregon

About 250 miles north in Mehama, Ore., a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother were killed trying to escape the Santiam Fire on Wednesday. The blaze has spread an estimated 159,000 acres at zero percent containment.

Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said in a news conference that rescue crews confirmed two deaths in the town. Family members confirmed to KPTV that 12-year-old Wyatt Tofte and his grandmother, Peggy Mosso, died inside their car next to the family’s home. (Officials also found the remains of the boy’s dog in the vehicle.) Wyatt’s mother suffered severe burns and remains in critical condition, family told KGW.

Coby Bertalloto, Wyatt’s cousin and Mosso’s grandchild, told KPTV the 12-year-old loved fishing and video games and said the boy’s grandmother was a happy soul who “loved everyone with all her heart.”

“I can say personally, and on behalf of all our first responders, our hearts go out to the family,” Kast said.

In Northern California, three people were confirmed dead and another 12 remained missing from the Bear Fire. Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea said in a news conference Wednesday that two of the three dead were found in the same location. The other victim was discovered near Berry Creek, Calif., by a California Highway Patrol officer who suspected they fled from their car in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the fire, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The sheriff’s office was working to identify the victims and notify their families, Honea said.

The sheriff added that 73 of the 85 of the people the sheriff’s office had been called to check on had been found safe, according to KCRA. Investigators were working to locate the other 12 people, he said.

The North Complex Fire, which contains the Bear Fire, has a spread of more than 250,000 acres and 24 percent containment. It had damaged or destroyed at least 200 structures in Butte County, and threatened around 23,000 total buildings, KCRA reported. It has burned dozens of homes in the process; Cal Fire said it has rescued more than 100 people this week.

“Butte County is certainly no stranger to tragedies, dealing with wild land fires, and for that matter dealing with tragedies of other kinds as well,” Honea said. “Our community is, unfortunately, becoming accustomed to this.”

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