‘I could never have envisioned this’: At least 35 dead as nearly 100 wildfires continue to rage across 12 Western states

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Lindsie and Brittany Cline didn’t wait for an evacuation notice before fleeing their home just outside Blue River, Oregon.

The Clines lost power. Then they saw an ominous orange glow in the sky.

“I knew pulling out of the driveway I wasn’t ever going to see anything in that house again,” Brittany Cline said.

The Holiday Farm Fire essentially destroyed the town of Blue River while damaging nearby communities. The blaze is one of almost 100 raging through 12 Western states, driven by gusting winds that by Sunday had swept deadly flames across an area almost the size of New Jersey.

More than 30,000 firefighters and support personnel were battling the blazes. Evacuation orders remain in effect for communities near 36 of the wildfires, the National Interagency Fire Center said Sunday. 

At least 35 people have died — 24 in California, 10 in Oregon and one in Washington state — since a rash of fires began burning in drought conditions a month ago. No one knows yet how many homes have been destroyed.

Smoke burning from the fires filled the air and spread to nearby states. While making it difficult to breathe, it helped firefighters by blocking the sun and turning the weather cooler as they tried to get a handle on the blazes.

But Sunday and Monday promised little relief along the fire lines or almost anywhere in the West.

“Wind gusts will be in the 25-30 mph range,” the Fire Center warned. “Smoke will impact visibility and air quality across much of the western United States.”

Temperatures will continue to trend upwards, although the smoke was expected to limit maximum temperatures. The good news: Humidity was expected to trend upwards.

The worst of the damage has been in California, Oregon and Washington, including about two-thirds of the burned acreage in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom is heaping praise on first responders and pointing blame at climate change.

“This isn’t an intellectual debate,” Newsom said. “This isn’t about ideology. The proof is right in front of our eyes. The impacts of climate change simply cannot be denied.”

The California governor isn’t the only governor saying the fires are a consequence of climate change. He’s joined by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

“And it is maddening right now that, when we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, with the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president to deny that these are not just wildfires, these are climate fires,” Inslee said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

President Donald Trump will travel to California on Monday for an update on the wildfires. Trump will visit McClellan Park in Sacramento County, where he will be briefed by local and federal fire and emergency officials, the White House said Saturday.

McClellan Park has served as the base for firefighter operations in the state. In California and across the West, hundreds of thousands of residents have been driven from their homes or been told to pack a bag and be ready to go. Millions are being tormented by the unrelenting smoke.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Index considers anything between 301 and 500 as hazardous. Portland’s index was at 426 on Sunday. Two cities, Madras and Roseburg, exceeded the scale.

“I drove 600 miles up and down the state, and I never escaped the smoke,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said on “This Week.” “I could never have envisioned this.”

Cline drove away from her own home on a mission, gathering other family members and urging them to flee. Cline drove to her grandfather’s house where she was rendezvousing with her parents. 

“He woke up to me pounding on his door,” Cline said. “The entire hillside from his porch, we just watched the whole thing erupt into flames.”

Cline has written off as lost some precious items: her mom’s wedding dress, her dad’s service uniform and the land where they used to hunt. 

“I expected that, once we left, the river was never going to look the same,” Cline said.