Oregon city ‘looks as though a bomb went off’

Search and rescue teams, with dogs in tow, were deployed across the blackened ruins of southern Oregon towns on Sunday as smoldering wildfires continue to ravage the U.S. west and officials warn of mass casualties.

A blitz of wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington state have destroyed thousands of homes and a half-dozen small towns this summer, scorching a landscape the size of New Jersey and killing at least 26 people since early August.

Tracy Koa, a high school teacher, returned to Talent, Ore., on Saturday after evacuating with her partner, Dave Tanksley, and 13-year-old daughter to find her house and neighbourhood reduced to heaps of ash and rubble.

“We knew that it was gone,” Koa said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “But then you pull up, and the devastation of just every home. You think of every family and every situation and every burnt-down car, and there are just no words for it.”

Crews in Jackson County, Ore., were hoping to venture into rural areas where the Alameda Fire has abated slightly with slowing winds, sending up thick plumes of smoke as the embers burned. From Medford through the neighbouring communities of Phoenix and Talent, an apocalyptic scene of charred residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for kilometres along Highway 99.

Community donation centres popped up around Jackson County over the weekend, including one in the parking lot of Home Depot in Phoenix, where farmers brought a pick-up truck bed full of watermelons and people brought water and other supplies. (BBC)