An entire town has been wiped off the map as the devastating wildfires that have been sweeping across much of America’s west coast reached Malden, in eastern Washington.
“I pray everyone got out in time,” said Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers, who added that the scale of the disaster “couldn’t be expressed in words.”
According to a statement from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office more than 80% of the homes and buildings in the town have been completely destroyed.
Malden’s city hall, library, post office and even its fire station are gone, say reports.
It’s not yet clear if there were any casualties.
Sheriff Myers said he believed all residents in the area had managed to make their escape but couldn’t be sure: “The fire was too hot and too quick to even get a count,” he said.
Two fires had converged in the town, making firefights’ jobs almost impossible. “Winds of 45mph and dry ground fuelled the flames at an alarming rate of speed,” the Sheriff’s Office reported in a statement.
Deputies arrived in town and started the evacuation process going door to door and making announcements on vehicle PA systems, warning residents about the fire and the potential danger to life and property.
Within hours, many of the homes in Malden and the nearby town of Pine City were on fire or completely destroyed.
Sheriff Myers said “The fire will be extinguished but a community has been changed for a lifetime.”
Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said there was widespread damage across the state: “Today alone, almost 300,000 acres in Washington have burned,” she said.
“Thousands of homes are without power,” she added. “Many families have had to evacuate their homes and many homes have been lost.”
She said the danger isn’t over yet: “We’re expecting east winds and extreme fire danger over the next two days.”
Meanwhile over in Colorado temperatures have dropped from a toasty 38ºC on Saturday to below freezing today.
The National Weather Centre said that “A drastic change in the weather will occur Monday night and Tuesday, with record or near record heat replaced by wintry conditions, snow, and record cold.”
The state is also plagued by wildfires but, say forecasters, the expected snowfall of over 14 inches may well put most of the fires out.