The largest fire in the United States set fire to Oregon’s driest forest landscape on Sunday, one of dozens of major wildfires burning across the west as extremely dangerous fire weather loomed in the coming days.
The destructive Bootleg Fire just north of the California border has grown to more than 476 square miles (1,210 square km), an area the size of Los Angeles.
It is one of at least 70 major fires burning in the western United States and neighboring states.
Irregular winds fueled the Bootleg Fire, creating dangerous conditions for firefighters, said Sarah Gracey, spokesperson for the fire operation. “We are still facing a lot of weather problems,” he said on Sunday. “The winds have … hindered our efforts most of the time.”
Authorities have expanded the evacuations that now affect some 2,000 residents of a predominantly rural area of lakes and wildlife refuges. The fire, contained at 22%, burned at least 67 homes and 100 outbuildings, threatening thousands more.
At the other end of the state, a fire in the mountains of northeastern Oregon grew to over 44 square kilometers on Saturday night.
The Elbow Creek Fire that began Thursday resulted in evacuation in several small remote communities around the Grande Ronde River about 30 miles (50 km) southeast of Walla Walla, Washington.
In California, a growing fire south of Lake Tahoe bypassed a freeway, requiring further evacuation orders and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada on Saturday.
The Tamarack Fire, which was ignited by lightning on July 4, had charred nearly 29 square miles of dry bushes and lumber as of Sunday morning.
The fire was threatening Markleeville, a small town near the California-Nevada state line. It destroyed at least two structures, authorities said.
A notice posted on the 103-mile (165-kilometer) Death Ride website claimed that several communities in the area had been evacuated and ordered all bikers to vacate the area.
The fire left thousands of motorcyclists and spectators stranded in the town and racing to get out.
Kelli Pennington and her family had camped near town on Friday so that her husband could participate in his ninth race when he was told to leave. They had watched the smoke develop over the course of the day, but were caught off guard by the rapid spread of the fire. “It happened so fast,” Pennington said. “We left our tents, the hammock and some food, but we took most of our things, pushed our two children into the car and left.”
Meteorologists have predicted extremely dangerous fire conditions with possible lightning strikes at least until Monday in both California and southern Oregon. “With very dry fuels, any storm has the potential to trigger new fires,” the National Weather Service in Sacramento, California, said on Twitter.
Extremely dry conditions and climate change-related heat waves have swept the region, making fires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and fires more frequent and destructive.
Firefighters said they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall in July. California’s Dixie Fire, near the 2018 site of the deadliest fire in the United States in recent memory, was contained at 15% and covered 39 square miles on Sunday. The fire occurred in Feather River Canyon, northeast of the city of Paradise, California, and survivors of that horrific fire that killed 85 people watched cautiously as the new fire burned.
Montana officials identified a firefighter who was badly burned when the flames reached a crew fighting a small fire there. Dan Steffensen was flown to the Salt Lake City hospital after winds suddenly shifted on Friday, engulfing his fire engine near the Wyoming border. A second firefighter escaped unharmed and called for help.
There have been about 70 large active and complex fires of multiple fires that burned nearly 1,659 square miles in the United States, the National Interagency Fire Center said. The U.S. Forest Service said at least 16 major fires occurred in the Pacific Northwest alone.
[ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/18/the-largest-wildfire-in-the-us-has-torched-more-dry-forest-landscape https://d26toa8f6ahusa.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/30214746/a-quiet-place-part-2-bigs-16.pdf