Inside the wildfires devastating the Pacific Northwest: Part 1

At least 27 people in three states have died from the fires, which have burned through 3.3 million acres in California alone this year. Those on the ground talk about what they’re seeing.
8:43 | 09/15/20

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Transcript for Inside the wildfires devastating the Pacific Northwest: Part 1
It's such is a mess, the fire rolled through here. Ghostly images, soot and ash, blocking out the sun. Casting everything in tones of black and white. So far I have not seen a structure standing. Reporter: There's been catastrophic damage, and the fires are burning with no end in sight. The smoke is a dangerous hazard to millions, among the worst air quality in the world, in Portland, Oregon, the air quality level-s, the air is so hazardous, people are being encouraged on to not go outside. And authorities are saying that those that have to go out, should wear an n-95. This could be the greatest loss due to wild fire in our state's history. Children are particularly sensitive to smoke. Their airways are still developing, so the bottom line is stay inside. They are warning with a mass fatality incident, with 22 people missing in the state. 27 people have been killed in three states over the past week. We are experiencing weather conditions the likes of which we have never experienced in our lifetime. Reporter: In California, a record 3.3 million acres have burned this year that is 27 times the amount that burned last year. Today president trump was on the ground to survey the damage. This is one of the biggest burns we have ever seen and we have to do a lot about forest management. Reporter: The president's message, highlights forest management, and dismissing climate change. If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management. We are not going to succeed together. It will start getting cooler. You just watch. I wish science agreed with you. Well, I don't think science knows, actually. My colleague Lindsay Davis spoke with wade Crawford, the California secretary for natural resources about their exchange. I don't think science knowing actually was his response. What were you thinking in that moment, and also, in your time with him today, did the president simply ignore the impact that climate change is having across the board? I mean, I think the statement that he made speaks for itself. And I think we are frustrated in California and across the west coast. Our communities are under threat right now from catastrophic wild fire burning like we have never seen it burn before. Fueled by record shattering summer heat waves. Multiple times this summer. It's what scientists told us will happen with climate change, so it's an urgent issue and what I asked him today was, really a plea to work with us. Let science be our guide to protect the forests and ultimately to protect people. Presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeting a two-word message. Science knows. Earlier Biden had painted a stark picture of what four more years of a trump presidency could do to the environment. Donald trump'ses climate denial may not have caused the fires, and record floods, and record hurricanes, but if he gets a second term, these hellish events will be more common and more devastating and more deadly. Biden's argument that climate change does matter is in line with the democratic governors of Washington and California. The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes. I think we have to start thinking there are more climate fires. They are climate fires because that's what creates the conditions that makes them so explosive. Devastation cannot be over stated. From Portland to Los Angeles. Communities are in a state of emergency. Those fighting the fires completely drained. We have been working nonstop, sleeping on the ground and on top of that, you know, all the guys up here, they have families and property that are part of the community and the emotional toll for everyone is, it's, I mean, that just adds to the tired, to the exhaustion. In berry creek, California, it's the west complex they are battling. The fire came through quickly and burned cars and homes to the ground in minutes, leaving behind a toxic smoke that is choking. I had to keep my mask on. A veteran fire chief for 30 years tells me it's the worst conditions he has seen. That was the front of the house there. Reporter: Here, six of the firefighters have lost their own I was out evacuating people, we were getting them out you know, and the next day I found out that my home burned and lost everything that I had. Reporter: Reed Rankin is the captain of his fire department, we went with him to where his home once stood, and now it's a vacant lot of ruble and ash. Everything that you collect in your life is right there. It's heartbreaking. They lost their station to the blaze. Trees were like space ships taking off. Every tree was like, whoa, whoa. It just makes you sick to your Reporter: Just 40 miles west, he has lived in Orville, California, for 58 years. You experienced the campfire and this fire. This area has been battered in recent years by fires. Yes, we have not had a fire this close though. I think this close for a long Reporter: Do you want to stay here? Well, where am I going to go? Everything is gone. No housing, no nothing. Reporter: My colleague Matt Gutman was in Oregon last week as the fires started spreading. Reporter: I have been covering fire force half a dozen years or month, I have never seen anything like this. The sky completely Orange at 11:00 in the morning. Reporter: Here, retard ant could not stop the force of the fire. I want to show you the world of pink laid down, and it still did nothing to stop the progress of that fire which burned entire neighborhoods and developments here. So many with nowhere to live. This couple took refuge in a red cross shelter in Salem, Oregon. We had a neighbor that called us and screamed and said, get out, you guys need to leave. Reporter: The single mom grabbed her sister's dogs and fled in to the night. I still have my swimsuit on. You had left in a swimsuit. Yes, and the kids had pjs. Reporter: They think their house is save, but they are not for sure. The upheaval of fleeing and homelessness being possible, they are tearing up about. We have not been able to start school and now we can't start school. And so, it's been hard. In another neighborhood we followed Tim Englehardt as he searched for his home. As land marks are gone, the neighborhood was unrecognizable. A friend of ours had a house here. A couple of friends. And it's so destroyed, I can't find where it was. Reporter: He was with his daughters and grandson picking through the wreckage. I'm spruzed that people got out of here alive. Reporter: They found a prized possession. A light up keyboard he earned himself. This -- It was a special gift, personal gift that he got for learning to ride his bike. Yeah, it's gone. But guess what, remember, it's what? Replaceable. Right? Yeah. Right, so hang on to it and we will make something cool with all right? Yes. Reporter: After the flames wiped out six towns in Oregon, search crews and K-9s have taken on the grim task or searching for the missing while residents are returning in utter dispair. It's the worst thing that I have ever seen in my life. I have seen videos, but it's a thousand times worse than I could have ever imagined. Reporter: A grim warning, fire season in California has just started the most destructive blazes tend to occur in November and December. For "Nightline," I'm will Carr in berry creek California.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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