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Fire-hit Oregon calls for help as weather worsens

by The Associated Press | July 21, 2021 at 4:19 a.m.
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire burns in the background behind the Sycan Marsh in southern Oregon on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area about the size of Los Angeles. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The threat of thunderstorms and lightning has prompted officials in fire-ravaged Oregon to ask for help from outside the Pacific Northwest to prepare for additional blazes as many resources are already devoted to a massive forest fire.

The 569-square-mile Bootleg Fire is burning 300 miles southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, a vast expanse of old-growth forest, lakes and wildlife refuges. Evacuations and property losses have been minimal compared with much smaller blazes in densely populated areas of California.

But looking at how the Bootleg Fire keeps growing by miles each day, officials with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon are asking for more outside crews to be ready should there be a surge in fire activity there.

"Although the lightning activity predicted for early this week is expected to occur east of us, we are prepared for the worst, and hoping for the best," Mike McCann, an assistant fire staff, said Monday.

The worry is that dry conditions, no rain and the recent record-breaking heat wave in the region have created tinderbox conditions, so resources like fire engines are being recruited from places like Arkansas, Nevada and Alaska.

Meanwhile, to the east, the Bootleg Fire's jaw-dropping size contrasted with its relatively small impact on people.

If the fire were in densely populated parts of California, "it would have destroyed thousands of homes by now," said James Johnston, a researcher with Oregon State University's College of Forestry. "But it is burning in one of the more remote areas of the lower 48 states. It's not the Bay Area out there."

At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have burned. No deaths have been reported.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xlyELIVzl8]

Pushed by strong winds, the fire is spreading rapidly to the north and east, advancing toward an area that's increasingly remote.

Evacuation orders on the fire's southern edge, closer to more populous areas like Klamath Falls and Bly, have been lifted or relaxed as crews gain control. Now it's small, unincorporated communities and scattered homesteads that are in the crosshairs.

But as big as the Bootleg Fire is, it's not the biggest Oregon has seen. The fire's size so far puts it fourth on the list of the state's largest blazes in modern times, including rangeland fires, and second on the list of infernos specifically burning in forest.

These megafires usually burn until the late fall or even early winter, when rain finally puts them out.

The largest forest fire in modern history was the Biscuit Fire, which torched nearly 780 square miles in 2002 in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon and Northern California.

The Bootleg Fire is now about 30% contained as of late Monday.

It was one of many fires burning in a dozen states. Sixteen large uncontained fires burned in Oregon and Washington state alone Monday.

In Northern California, authorities expanded evacuations on the Tamarack Fire in Alpine County in the Sierra Nevada to include the mountain town of Mesa Vista. That fire, which exploded over the weekend, was 61 square miles with no containment.

On the western side of the Sierra, the Dixie Fire has scorched 63 square miles, threatening tiny communities in the Feather River Valley region.

In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire burns at night in southern Oregon on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area about the size of Los Angeles. The Bootleg Fire is among dozens burning in the parched West.  (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire burns at night in southern Oregon on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area about the size of Los Angeles. The Bootleg Fire is among dozens burning in the parched West. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire is seen smoldering in southern Oregon, Saturday, July 17, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area about the size of Los Angeles. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire is seen smoldering in southern Oregon, Saturday, July 17, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area about the size of Los Angeles. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
Smoke obscures the air and dims the sun over a hillside burned by a recent wildfire, in Missoula, Mont., on Sunday, July 18, 2021. Extreme heat descended on parts of the U.S. northern Rocky Mountains on Monday, July 19 as authorities struggled to contain dozens of wildfires burning in a region parched by prolonged drought and blanketed with dangerous smoke. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)
Smoke obscures the air and dims the sun over a hillside burned by a recent wildfire, in Missoula, Mont., on Sunday, July 18, 2021. Extreme heat descended on parts of the U.S. northern Rocky Mountains on Monday, July 19 as authorities struggled to contain dozens of wildfires burning in a region parched by prolonged drought and blanketed with dangerous smoke. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, a public information officer talks with evacuees at a Red Cross Shelter near the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Sunday, July 18, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area about the size of Los Angeles. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, a public information officer talks with evacuees at a Red Cross Shelter near the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Sunday, July 18, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area about the size of Los Angeles. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, firefighters battle the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (J. Michael Johnson/Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, firefighters battle the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (J. Michael Johnson/Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, firefighters battle the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (J. Michael Johnson/Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, firefighters battle the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Saturday, July 17, 2021. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (J. Michael Johnson/Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, a DC-10 tanker drops retardant over the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Thursday, July 15, 2021. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)
In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, a DC-10 tanker drops retardant over the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, Thursday, July 15, 2021. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. (Bootleg Fire Incident Command via AP)

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