Headway made in subduing US wildfires

Scientists and officials describe the western US's wildfires as unprecedented in scope and ferocity.
Scientists and officials describe the western US's wildfires as unprecedented in scope and ferocity.

Crews who struggled just days ago against deadly wildfires raging unchecked across California, Oregon and Washington have now taken the offensive, making substantial progress in subduing the blazes, officials say.

Cooler, more favourable weather since last week has enabled ground teams to regroup and allowed greater use of water-dropping helicopters and air tankers.

The region still faces a formidable recovery from the fires, which have burned about 1.3 million hectares in California since mid-August and another 650,000 hectares in Oregon and Washington state since September 7.

The fires, which scientists and officials describe as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, roared to life amid lightning storms, a record heat wave and strong winds.

Several small towns have largely been incinerated, with thousands of dwellings destroyed and at least 34 lives lost - 25 in California, eight in Oregon and one in Washington. Thousands of evacuees remain in emergency accommodation.

The disaster has even emerged in the presidential election campaign, with Republican President Donald Trump playing down climate change as a factor, while Democratic challenger Joe Biden branded Trump a "climate arsonist" for refusing to acknowledge the science of global warming.

By Thursday, 11 days into the latest crisis, authorities were delivering a more optimistic assessment.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown told a news conference her fire managers were reporting "making significant progress".

A Washington Department of Natural Resources spokesman was likewise upbeat, telling Reuters: "Despite thin resources, we're feeling like we're making good headway."

A California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman said: "We're seeing containment numbers go up across a lot of the major fires that we've been working on."

The so-called Bobcat fire burning north of Los Angeles remains one of the more worrisome in California at just three per cent containment. It has burned more than 20,400 hectares since September 6, authorities said.

Fresh evacuations were ordered in the Antelope Valley in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains north of Los Angeles.

The wildfires have filled the region's skies with smoke and soot but some areas on Thursday were the clearest they have been in days.

Australian Associated Press