GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Stunned residents of the small Oregon town of Phoenix walked through a scene of devastation Thursday after one of the state's many wildfires wiped out much of their community, including a mobile home park, houses and businesses.
But even as residents in southern Oregon near the California border were assessing their losses, other wildfires in the northwest part of the state were growing, with more people told to flee for their lives.
By Thursday evening, the number of people evacuated statewide because of fires had climbed to an estimated 500,000, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management reported. That's more than 10% of the state's 4.2 million population.
A fire approaching Molalla triggered a mandatory evacuation order for the community of about 9,000 people 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Portland. A women's prison less than a mile from Interstate 5 in Portland's southern suburbs was being evacuated “out of an abundance of caution,” the Oregon Department of Corrections said.
Some firefighters in Clackamas County, which includes Molalla, had been told to disengage because of dangerous fire activity as two large fires in the area were believed to be merging, according to the state fire marshal’s office.
After spending the night in their cars in a Home Depot parking lot on the outskirts of Phoenix, a stream of people walked into what was left of the town that hugs Interstate 5. They hauled wagons and carried backpacks and bags to salvage whatever they could.
Jonathan Weir defied evacuation orders as flames 30 feet (9 meters) high shot from the trees. He drove his car to the entrance of a nearby mobile home park, where his tires began melting. His home was destroyed as the fire hopscotched through the town of 4,000 residents.
“There were flames across the street from me, flames to the right of me, flames to the left of me. I just watched everything burn,” Weir told a reporter.