PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Threat of thunderstorms and lightning has prompted officials in fire-ravaged Oregon to seek help outside the Pacific Northwest to prepare for more fires, as many resources are already spent on a massive fire in the state that has grown to one-third the size of Rhode Island.
The 537 square mile (1,391 square kilometers) Bootleg Fire burns 300 miles (483 kilometers) southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, a vast expanse of old growth forests, lakes and wildlife refuges. Evacuations and property losses have been minimal compared to much smaller fires in densely populated areas of California.
But seeing how the Bootleg Fire – fueled by extreme weather conditions – continues to grow several miles each day, officials at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon are calling for more outdoor teams. be ready in the event of increased fire activity.
“Although the lightning activity predicted for the start of this week is expected to occur east of us, we are prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” Firefighter assistant Mike McCann said on Monday in a statement. by the national forest. .
The concern is that dry conditions, drought and the recent record heat wave in the region have created powder keg conditions, so resources like fire trucks are being recruited from places like Arkansas, the Nevada and Alaska.
Meanwhile, in the east, the breathtaking size of the Bootleg Fire contrasts with its relatively small impact on people underlines the vastness of the American West and is a reminder that Oregon, which is larger than the Great -Brittany, is still a largely rural state, although it is best known for its largest city, Portland.
If the fire were to occur in densely populated areas of California, “it would have destroyed thousands of homes by now,” said James Johnston, a researcher at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry who studies historic wildfires. “But it’s burning in one of the most remote areas of the lower 48 states. It’s not the Bay Area there.
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at one point during the fire and 5,000 more threatened. At least 70 houses and more than 100 outbuildings caught fire. Thick smoke suffocates the area where residents and wildlife have already faced months of drought and extreme heat. Nobody died.
Driven by strong southwest winds, the fire quickly spread north and east, advancing into an increasingly remote area.
Evacuation orders on the southern edge of the blaze, closer to more populated areas like Klamath Falls and Bly, have been lifted or relaxed as crews take control. Now it’s small unincorporated communities like Paisley and Long Creek – both with fewer than 250 people – and scattered farms that are in the crosshairs.
But as big as the Bootleg Fire is, it’s not the biggest Oregon has seen. The size of the blaze so far places it fourth on the list of the largest modern-day state fires, including range fires, and second on the list of hells burning specifically in the forest. .
These mega fires usually burn until late fall or even early winter when the rain finally puts them out.
The largest forest fire in modern history was the Biscuit Fire, which burned down nearly 780 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) in 2002 in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon and the northern California.
The Bootleg Fire is now about 25% contained.
On Monday, flames forced the evacuation of a wildlife research station, with firefighters having to withdraw for the ninth day in a row due to erratic and dangerous behavior of the fires. Sycan Marsh is home to thousands of migratory and nesting birds and is a key wetland restoration research station in the upper Klamath Basin.
The Bootleg Fire was one of many fires that burned in a dozen states, most of them in the western United States. Sixteen large, uncontrolled fires burned down in the states of Oregon and Washington alone on Monday.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change have made forest fires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
And in northern California, authorities expanded evacuations from the Tamarack fire in Sierra Nevada Alpine County to include the mountain town of Mesa Vista. That fire, which exploded over the weekend and forced the cancellation of an extreme bike ride, was 36 square miles (93 square kilometers) without containment.
Thunderstorms expected to occur Monday night could bring winds to fan the flames and lightning that could spark new ones, the National Weather Service said.