by Nathan Howard | The Associated Press
BLY, Ore. — The nation’s largest wildfire raged through southern Oregon on Friday, but crews were curtailing some night operations as hard work and weak winds helped quell the flames, even though Wildfire continued to threaten homes in neighboring California.
Fire officials said the bootleg fire, which has destroyed an area half the size of Rhode Island, engulfed 40% after burning about 70 homes, mainly cabins.
At some point during the fire at least 2,000 homes were ordered to be evacuated, and an additional 5,000 were threatened.
In central Montana, five firefighters were injured when a thunderstorm and strong winds ignited lightning that ignited wildfires, federal officials said Friday.
The Bureau of Land Management did not release the extent of the firefighters’ injuries or specify where they were being treated.
They were joined by other workers working on the 375-acre Devil’s Creek fire burning in a rough, steep area northwest of the city of Jordan. Bureau spokesman Mark Jacobsen said firefighters were building a defensive fire line when the weather turned on Thursday.
The fires are among many burning across the US West, where extreme dry conditions and recent heat waves associated with climate change have made fighting wildfires difficult.
In Oregon, the upper eastern edge of the Bootleg Fire continued to move toward Summer Lake, jumping fire lines on Thursday and prompting evacuation orders for parts of Lake County to “go now!” Fire officials said.
Fire Information Officer Angela Goldman said winds of up to 10 mph could drive the flames through the wood, but not at speeds seen last week, when the wind-driven fires intensified.
The fire, which was ignited by lightning, spread for 4 miles a day, pushed by strong winds and severely dry weather.
There was good news at the bottom of the 625-square-mile fire. Crew had locked in the control lines and in the lower southeast, they were able to gain a substantial foothold, allowing them to engage in “24-7 run-and-gun” fighting, cutting off nighttime patrols from the fire information officer. allowed to do so. Sarah Gracie said.
“For us, this is a huge step forward,” she said. “Working in the thick black forest in the middle of the night is not so easy.”
On Friday, officials said they would keep an eye on the changing wind conditions.
“The fires continue to pose challenges for us, and we will continue to be vigilant, work hard, and adapt,” incident commander Joe Hessel of the Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Management Team said in a statement.
Gracie said that part of the fire had also burned in an area darkened by a previous fire, creating a gap in the fuel and reducing the spread of the flames through grass, shrubbery and wood.
In California, the Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe has now burned more than 91 square miles (235 square kilometers) of wood and head-high chaparral of most national forest land, fire officials said Friday.
On July 4, a fire caused by lightning in Alpine County destroyed at least 10 buildings and forced the evacuation of more than 2,400 homes. That includes about 1,300 who were first ordered to evacuate on Thursday after blowing embers sparked a new site fire that jumped off US Highway 395 north of Topaz Lake on the California-Nevada line.
Pat Seekins, chief of the operations section of the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, which was called in to control the fire, said Friday that they are moving critical resources east along the state line. More than 1,300 firefighters were battling the fire in total, with more resources on their way.
Seekins said that the fire on the spot “got very large” very quickly. It has already burned an estimated 10 square miles.
“We had a really active day yesterday. It was very serious,” he said. “This is a very important space fire, and it is going to be a lot of work. This will be a very high priority for us today.”
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners in Nevada declared a state of emergency and established a senior center and evacuation sites at the Topaz Estates Community Center. Neighboring Lyon County opened one at Smith Valley High School.
Seekins said that crews continue to provide structure protection to the west near Crystal Springs in Markleyville, Woodford, and south of California Highway 88 in California, but the worst has passed.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Friday in Butte County, California, as the Dixie Fire continued to explosively advance east, becoming the state’s largest wildfire ever this year. On Thursday, officials in Plumas County in the Sierra Nevada, west of the Nevada line, also ordered evacuations.
“This fire is taking us away in no time,” incident commander Shannon Prather said Thursday evening.
Fire officials said the fire had burned more than 223 square miles as of Friday morning. It destroyed at least eight buildings and threatened at least 1,500 more.
Gavin Newsom’s office announced Thursday evening that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had acquired 12 additional firefighters, and nine were immediately doused. Cal Fire now has over 60 airplanes and helicopters.
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.
Associated Press videographer Heaven Daily from Gardnerville, Nevada contributed.