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Death toll rises as wildfires burn 3.4M acres in western U.S.

A mixture of fog and smoke casts an orange glow around the Bay Bridge on Wednesday morning, as seen from the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
A mixture of fog and smoke casts an orange glow around the Bay Bridge on Wednesday morning, as seen from the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 9 (UPI) -- At least 15 people have died in California, Oregon and Washington as a result of wildfires burning throughout the western United States, which have destroyed hundreds of homes and prompted waves of evacuations.

The National Interagency Fire Center said Wednesday that 96 large fires have so far burned more than 3.4 million acres. Fires in Oregon, California and Washington have burned tens of thousands of acres.

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Oregon

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared during a press conference Wednesday that the communities of Detroit, Blue River, Vida Phoenix and Talent have been "substantially destroyed," with hundreds of homes lost and more than 300,000 acres charred.

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"I want to be upfront in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss both in structures and in human lives," she said. "This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state's history."

Brown added that Oregonians must be "on high alert" for fire conditions such as dry air, dry bush and hot wind even in areas of the state that are not immediately threatened by the wildfires.

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Two people were found dead in a vehicle east of Salem, the Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said, adding that they died while trying to flee the Santiam Fire.

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Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said at least one person died in the Almeida Fire.

In response to the blazes, Brown invoked a fire conflagration act for the entire state and directed the Office of Emergency Management to request a federal emergency declaration.

"These free up resources for response efforts: power generation, search and rescue and more," she said.

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Nancy Bush, director of Clackamas County's disaster management department, said the county has issued 35 evacuation orders since Tuesday in response to four wildfires in the area.

California

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said 28 major wildfires are burning throughout the state have resulted in eight deaths, burned more than 2.5 million acres and destroyed 3,700 structures.

One of the newest fires in California, the Creek Fire, has burned 136,000 acres and destroyed 360 structures in Fresno County, Cal Fire said.

Fresno County Sheriff's Lt. Brandon Pursell said Tuesday at least 30,000 people in the county have been evacuated.

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In Butte County, Sheriff Kory Honea said Wednesday three people died in the Bear Fire and a dozen are missing.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the closure of all 18 national forests in California, citing "unprecedented" fire conditions.

"The number of large fires and extreme fire behavior we are seeing across the state is historic," said Regional Forester Randy Moore. "These temporary closures are necessary to protect the public and our firefighters and we will keep them in place until conditions improve and we are confident that National Forest visitors can recreate safely."

Washington

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday visited the site of the Sumner Grade Fire, where he said Eastside Fire Chief Bud Backer told him he'd "never seen a fire explode like this one in his 33 years of service."

The fire has burned hundreds of acres, destroyed multiple homes and caused thousands to evacuate.

Inslee also said 330,000 acres have burned statewide.

"We think almost all of these fires were human-caused, in some dimension," he said. "If you can avoid being outside for anything that would even cause a spark, I hope people can avoid those conditions."

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The Whitman's County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday 80% of homes and structures, including the fire station, post office and city hall in the town of Malden, were destroyed by flames.

A 1-year-old boy died in the Cold Springs Fire, the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office said. He added that the boy's parents were hospitalized in critical condition.

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