CHILOQUIN, Ore. — Tavan Murray was selling concert-style “Bootleg Wildfire 2021” T-shirts in the parking lot of Chiloquin High School, as firefighters in central Oregon battling to prevent the nation’s largest wildfire on Wednesday.
Mr. Murray is a sort of merchant of the apocalypse, going from city to city after the fire. “Business is slow but steady – there are so many firefighters walking around,” he said.
The bootleg fire has burned nearly 400,000 acres in southern Oregon since July 6, when it was struck by lightning, officials said Wednesday. It’s already the fourth-largest wildfire in the state since 1900, and was burning so hot this week that it essentially created its own season and spread unhealthy smoke as far as New York City.
At least 2,000 people in rural Oregon have been ordered to evacuate or prepare, according to the state forestry department, as the fire destroyed 67 homes and 100 other structures. Although large and growing, the fire continued to burn mostly on remote forest land.
About 70 miles northeast of Chiloquine on the outskirts of Silver Lake, the windows of the Cowboy Dinner Tree restaurant frame miles of desert sagebrush and the pines of the forest ahead. The establishment takes its name from a juniper tree that has stood nearby for decades; Local history has it that cattle drivers stopped in its shadow to eat in a chuck wagon along the Outback Trail.
For a week now, the owners, Jamie and Angel Roscoe, and their five children, about a mile from the Fremont National Forest, brag about orders to vacate their business and a nearby home. were residents of parts of Lake County asked to vacate immediately, but the Roscoe family has been under the command of “Level 2 readiness,” which means get packed and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
They made preparations to take saddle horses and steers to neighboring farms. Since then, he has waited and seen. On Wednesday, Mr Roscoe, 43, carefully took stock of wind speed and direction, citing the threat of bootleg fire, which he said was about 14.5 miles away as “the crow flies”.
Kids have crafted bags from their favorite clothes, trinkets and pocket knives. Important papers will be left behind in a fireproof safe. Mr. Roscoe has no idea what his wife has in store for him. “I don’t care,” he said on Wednesday. “Everything can be changed, except my family.”
The Roscoes planned to keep their restaurant open as long as the winds were in their favor. The fire, Mr. Roscoe said, “was playing a crazy game of leapfrog. This fire is terrifying. It’s extremely aggressive.”
Thick smoke was everywhere, he said, even inside. “It smells like a campfire inside my pickup.”