Thousands evacuated as raging wildfires spread across Oregon and western US

Firefighters rushed Friday to contain a raging inferno in southeastern Oregon that spreads for miles a day in windy conditions, one of several wildfires in the western US that are straining resources.

Crews had to flee firing lines late Thursday after a dangerous “fire cloud” began to collapse, threatening them with strong downdrafts and flying embers. An initial assessment on Friday showed that the Bootleg Fire destroyed 67 homes and 117 outbuildings overnight in one county. Authorities are still counting losses in a second province where flames reach up to 6 kilometers per day.

The fire has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and threatens 5,000 buildings, including homes and smaller buildings in a rural area just north of the California border, said fire spokeswoman Holly Krake. Active flames are streaming 200 miles (322 kilometers) from the perimeter of the fire, she said, and it is expected to merge with a smaller but equally explosive fire by nightfall.

The Bootleg Fire is now 377 square miles (976 square kilometers) — larger than New York City’s area — and largely unattended.

“We will likely continue to see fire growth across miles and miles of active fire line,” Krake said. “We continue to add thousands of acres a day and it has the potential every day, looking into the weekend, to continue those 3 to 4 mile runs.”

The inferno has thwarted firefighters for a week with erratic winds and extremely dangerous fire behavior, including ominous clouds of fire that form from superheated air rising to heights of up to 10 kilometers above the blaze.

“We expect the same exact conditions to continue and deteriorate over the weekend,” Krake said of the fire-induced clouds.

In the beginning, the fire doubled in size almost daily and on Thursday strong winds again quickly pushed the flames up. Similar winds with gusts of up to 30 mph (48 km/h) were expected Friday.

Dry conditions and heat waves

It burns an area north of the California border that has been ravaged by extreme drought, such as most of the American West.

Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change have engulfed the region, making wildfires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will make the weather more extreme and make wildfires more frequent and devastating.

The fire was most active on the northeast flank, which was propelled by southerly winds into the rural communities of Summer Lake and Spring Lake. Paisley, east of the blaze, was also in danger. All the towns are in Lake County, a remote area of ​​lakes and nature reserves with a total population of approximately 8,000.

The Bootleg Fire is one of at least a dozen major fires burning in Washington, Oregon and California state as a siege of wildfires engulfs the drought-ravaged West. There were 70 active major fires and multi-fire complexes that burned nearly 1,659 square miles (4,297 square kilometers) in the U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In the Pacific Northwest, firefighters say they are dealing with conditions more typical of late summer or fall than early July.

About 200 firefighters were fighting but had little control over the 17-square-mile (44 square kilometers) Red Apple Fire near the Washington town of Wenatchee, known for its apples. The flames threatened apple orchards and an electrical substation, but no buildings were lost, officials said.

In California, the Tamarack fire in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest quickly grew to four square miles on Friday, triggering evacuations in the Markleeville area of ​​Alpine County. The fire led to the cancellation of Saturday’s “Death Ride,” a 165.76-mile bike ride in the so-called California Alps over three Sierra Nevada mountain passes.

(AP)

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