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Erratic Oregon wildfire expands, destroys dozens of homes

Erratic Oregon wildfire expands, destroys dozens of homes

In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire burns at night near Highway 34 in southern Oregon on Jul 15, 2021. (Photo: Jason Pettigrew/Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)

PORTLAND: Firefighters scrambled on Friday (Jul 16) to control a raging inferno in southeastern Oregon that’s spreading miles a day in windy conditions, one of the numerous wildfires across the US West that are straining resources.

Crews had to flee the fire lines late Thursday after a dangerous “fire cloud” started to collapse, threatening them with strong downdrafts and flying embers. 

An initial review on Friday showed the Bootleg fire destroyed 67 homes and 117 outbuildings overnight in one county. Authorities were still counting the losses in a second county where the flames are surging up to 6km a day.

The blaze has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings that include homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border, fire spokeswoman Holly Krake said. 

In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire burns at night near Highway 34 in southern Oregon on Jul 15, 2021. (Photo: Jason Pettigrew/Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)

Active flames are surging along 322km of the fire's perimeter, she said, and it is expected to merge with a smaller, but equally explosive fire by nightfall.

The Bootleg fire is now 976 sq km – larger than the area of New York City – and mostly uncontained.

READ: Oregon heat wave victims older, lived alone, had no AC

“We’re likely going to continue to see fire growth over miles and miles of active fire line,” Krake said. “We are continuing to add thousands of acres a day, and it has the potential each day, looking forward into the weekend, to continue those three to four mile runs.”

The inferno has stymied firefighters for a week with erratic winds and extremely dangerous fire behaviour, including ominous fire clouds that form from superheated air rising to a height of up to 10km above the blaze.

“We're expecting those same exact conditions to continue and worsen into the weekend,” Krake said of the fire-induced clouds.

Early on, the fire doubled in size almost daily, and strong winds on Thursday again pushed the flames rapidly. Similar winds gusting up to 48 kph were expected on Friday.

Members of a crew of Wildland firefighters from PR Reforestation, out of Vancouver, Washington, dig away at hot spots underneath stumps and brush as they mop up after flames from the Snake River Complex Fire swept through the area earlier in the week south of Lewiston, Idaho, Jul 15, 2021. (Photo: Pete Caster/Lewiston Tribune via AP)

It is burning an area north of the California border that has been gripped by extreme drought, like most of the American West.

Extremely dry conditions and heatwaves tied to climate change have swept the region, making wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

READ: California blaze erupts near site of deadliest US wildfire

The blaze was most active on its northeastern flank, pushed by winds from the south toward the rural communities of Summer Lake and Spring Lake. Paisley, to the east of the fire, was also at risk. All the towns are in Lake County, a remote area of lakes and wildlife refuges with a total population of about 8,000.

Firefighter Garrett Suza, with the Chiloquin Forest Service, mops up a hot spot on the North East side of the Bootleg Fire, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, near Sprague River, Ore. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

The Bootleg fire is one of at least a dozen major fires burning in Washington state, Oregon and California as a siege of wildfires takes hold across the drought-stricken West. 

There were 70 active large fires and complexes of multiple fires that have burned nearly 4,297 sq km in the US, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

In the Pacific Northwest, firefighters say they are facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall than early July.

About 200 firefighters were battling but had little control over the 44 sq km Red Apple Fire near the Washington city of Wenatchee renowned for its apples. The flames were threatening apple orchards and an electrical substation, but no buildings have been lost, officials said.

Source: AP/mi

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