Portland, Ore. Threats of thunder and lightning have prompted officials in fire-ravaged Oregon to seek help from outside the Pacific Northwest to prepare for additional blazes because many resources are already devoted to the state’s massive fires that escalate. It is one-third the size of Rhode Island.
The 537-square-mile Bootleg Fire is burning 300 miles southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, a vast expanse of old-growth forest, lakes, and wildlife. Evacuations and property damage have been minimal compared to much smaller blazes in densely populated areas of California.
But seeing as how bootleg fires — fueled by extreme weather — continue to grow for miles each day, officials at Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon are telling more outdoor workers to be prepared, should there be a fire. activity should increase.
Mike McCann, an assistant firefighter, said in a statement issued by National Forest on Monday, “Although the lightning activity predicted earlier this week is expected to occur east of us, we are prepared for the worst, and the best.” are expecting.” .
Worryingly, dry conditions, drought and the region’s recent record-breaking heat wave have created tinderbox conditions, so resources such as fire engines are being recruited from places like Arkansas, Nevada and Alaska.
Meanwhile, in the East, the jaw-dropping size of bootleg fire underscores the vastness of the American West in contrast to its relatively small effect on people and provides a reminder that Oregon, despite being larger than Britain, is still a The state is largely rural. Mostly known for its largest city, Portland.
If the fire had occurred in densely populated parts of California, “thousands of homes would have been destroyed by now,” said James Johnston, a researcher at the Oregon State University College of Forestry who studies historic wildfires. “But it is burning in one of the more remote areas of the lower 48 states. This is not the Bay Area.”
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated and another 5,000 are in danger during the fire. At least 70 houses and over 100 buildings have been engulfed in flames. Thick smoke chokes the area where residents and wildlife alike have been battling drought and extreme heat for months. No one has died.
Due to strong winds from the southwest, the fire is rapidly spreading north and east, moving towards an area that is rapidly dissipating.
The fire’s southern flank, close to more populated areas such as Klamath Falls and Bailey, have been removed or eased under control for crews. Now it’s small, unincorporated communities like Paisley and Long Creek – both have less than 250 people – and scattered homes that are in the crosshairs.
But as big as the Bootleg Fire is, it isn’t Oregon’s biggest. The size of the fire so far places it fourth on the list of largest blazes in the state, including the amphitheater fire, and second on the list of exclusively forest-burning hells.
These megafires usually burn until late fall or early winter, when rain finally extinguishes them.
The largest wildfire in modern history was the Biscuit Fire, which engulfed approximately 780 square miles in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon and northern California in 2002.
Bootleg Fire is now about 25% contained.
On Monday, flames forced the evacuation of a wildlife research center as erratic and dangerous fire behavior forced firefighters to retreat for the ninth day in a row. Saikon Marsh hosts thousands of migratory and nesting birds and is a major research center on wetland restoration in the upper reaches of the Klamath Basin.
The bootleg fire was one of several fires burning in a dozen states, most of them in the US West. Sixteen major fires raged on Monday in Oregon and Washington state alone.
Extremely dry conditions and the heat waves associated with climate change have made it harder to fight wildfires. Climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
And in Northern California, officials expanded evacuations on the Tamarack Fire in Alpine County in the Sierra Nevada to include the mountain town of Mesa Vista. That fire, which exploded over the weekend and forced the cancellation of an extreme bike ride, covered 36 square miles with no controls.
The National Weather Service said that continuing thunderstorms through Monday night could bring flames and winds to flash lightning.