Western forest fires grow in the midst of fire, wind and heat
The massive Bootleg fire in Oregon has grown to a third of Rhode Island. It is one of many fires burning in the western states that are already dealing with extremely dry weather and heat waves. (July 20)
- Oregon’s massive Bootleg Fire, now at 616 square miles in size, was only 32% contained as of Wednesday morning.
- A total of 78 major forest fires are burning across 13 states, most of them in the western United States
- Dry conditions, drought and record-breaking heat waves have all created the conditions to ignite such large flames.
The nation’s largest forest fire grew on Wednesday as smoke from dozens of flames in the West spread across the country.
Oregon’s massive Bootleg Fire, at 617 square miles, was 32% contained as of Wednesday morning. The fire has ravaged the southern part of the state and spread by up to 4 miles a day, pushed by gusts of wind and critically dry weather that turned trees and undergrowth into a tinderbox.
The fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest merged with a minor flame on Tuesday, and it has repeatedly broken a perimeter of treeless dirt and flame retardant that was supposed to stop its advance.
“We’re in it as long as it takes to restrain this monster safely,” said Commander Rob Allen.
With at least 70% of fires in Oregon triggering human activity, a campfire ban will take effect Thursday in all state parks and forests east of Interstate 5, the state Department of Forestry said in a press release.
The new restriction aims to conserve the state’s already challenged firefighting resources for “existing major fires as well as new fires that may occur,” the department said.
Fire bans in Mount Hood, Gifford Pinchot and Willamette National Forests were issued as early as July 1 to prevent fires on the fourth weekend from spreading. Since then, nearly half a million acres have burned in Oregon.
“This will not return to normal at any time,” Doug Grafe, head of fire protection at ODF, told a news conference on Tuesday.
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated during the fire and 5,000 are threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames.
“I will categorize this fire season so far historically in terms of the amount of resources we have deployed, how many times we have deployed – within a period of three weeks we have mobilized for six fires – and this is the earliest and most significant mobilization to date, ”Mariana Ruiz-Temple of the Oregon Fire Marshal’s Office told CNN on Tuesday.
A total of 78 major forest fires are burning across 13 states, most of them in the western United States, the National Interagency Fire Center said Wednesday, affecting more than 1.3 million acres of land. It’s an area larger than Rhode Island.
“More than 20,700 wilderness firefighters and support personnel have been assigned to incidents,” NIFC said.
Fires grew on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada. In Alpine County, the Tamarack fire caused evacuations of several communities and grew to 61 square miles without containment as it crossed state lines to Nevada. Dixie Fire, near the site of 2018’s deadly Paradise Fire, was more than 90 square miles and threatened small communities in the Feather River Valley region.
More: Thick smoke from western forest fires moves thousands of miles and clouds NYC’s skies
Dry conditions, drought and record-breaking heat waves have all created the conditions to ignite such large flames. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier for the last 30 years and is likely to make the weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
More: From fire clouds to fire tornadoes, here’s how forest fires can create their own weather
The forecast for Wednesday in the West was not good: “Extreme droughts, gusts of wind and the continuing threat of dry lightning could create elevated to critical firefighting,” the National Weather Service said.
“These conditions extend from the northern Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin to the northern Rockies, where fire checks and red flag warnings have been issued,” the weather service said.
Tony Galvez fled the Tamarack fire in California on Tuesday with his daughter at the last minute and found out his home was gone.
“I lost all my life, everything I’ve ever had. The children are what matters, ”he said, sending calls from relatives. “I had three teenagers. They are going home to a lunar landscape. ”
Contribution: Wesley Lapointe, Salem Statesman Journal; Associated Press