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Weather offers break in battling 2 wildfires

by The Associated Press | July 28, 2021 at 4:34 a.m.
Cows graze as smoke rises from the Dixie Fire burning in Lassen National Forest, Calif., near Jonesville on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

INDIAN FALLS, Calif. -- Cooler weather Tuesday helped calm two large wildfires in the U.S. West, but property losses mounted in a tiny California community savaged by flames last weekend and in a remote area of Oregon. Both areas are bracing for more hot, dry conditions that have been making the blazes so explosive.

Scientists say evidence shows Oregon's Bootleg Fire generated its own "fire tornado" this month, with winds higher than 111 mph, a rare phenomenon, experts said.

Teams reviewing damage from the giant Dixie Fire in the mountains of Northern California have so far counted 36 structures destroyed and seven damaged in the remote community of Indian Falls, said Nick Truax, an incident commander for the fire. It's unclear if that figure included homes or smaller buildings.

The assessment was about half done, Truax said in an online briefing Monday night.

The Dixie Fire has scorched more than 325 square miles, and it was partially contained Tuesday. More than 10,000 homes were threatened in the region.

A historic drought and recent heat waves have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West.

An inversion layer, which is a cap of relatively warmer air over cooler air, trapped smoke over much of the fire Monday, and the shade helped lower temperatures and keep humidity up, incident meteorologist Julia Ruthford said.

Monsoon moisture was streaming in over the region, but only light showers were likely near the fire. A return to hotter, drier weather was expected later in the week.

Authorities also were hopeful that lower temperatures, increased humidity and isolated showers will help them make more progress against the nation's largest wildfire, the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon. Crews have it more than halfway contained after it scorched 640 square miles of remote land.

The lightning-sparked fire has destroyed 161 homes, 247 outbuildings and 342 vehicles in Klamath and Lake counties, the report said.

On July 18, the blaze spawned a fire tornado in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, scientists say. The phenomenon occurred when smoke rose nearly 6 miles into the sky and formed giant clouds, Bruno Rodriguez, a meteorologist assigned to the Bootleg Fire, told the Herald and News of Klamath Falls, Ore.

"Prior to last year, there had only been two well-documented tornado-strength vortices generated by fires," said Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Nevada.

The National Weather Service confirmed the tornado.

In California, the 106-square-mile Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe was chewing through timber and chaparral but was more than halfway contained. Evacuation orders for about 2,000 residents on both sides of the California-Nevada line have been lifted. At least 23 buildings have burned.

The Dixie Fire burns in Lassen National Forest, Calif., near Jonesville on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The Dixie Fire burns in Lassen National Forest, Calif., near Jonesville on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Following the Dixie Fire, scorched vehicles rest in a driveway in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Following the Dixie Fire, scorched vehicles rest in a driveway in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Cal Fire Capts. Derek Leong, right, and Tristan Gale monitor a firing operation, where crews set a ground fire to stop a wildfire from spreading, while battling the Dixie Fire in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Cal Fire Capts. Derek Leong, right, and Tristan Gale monitor a firing operation, where crews set a ground fire to stop a wildfire from spreading, while battling the Dixie Fire in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Smoke from the Dixie Fire rises over trees in Lassen National Forest, Calif., near Jonesville on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Smoke from the Dixie Fire rises over trees in Lassen National Forest, Calif., near Jonesville on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Following the Dixie Fire, a scorched vehicle rests in a driveway in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Following the Dixie Fire, a scorched vehicle rests in a driveway in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest, Calif., on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

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