Oregon blaze threatens 2,000 homes as new wildfires erupt in western states

by Reuters
Thursday, 15 July 2021 18:05 GMT

Smoke billows over the hills to the north of a Red Cross disaster shelter as the Bootleg Fire expands to over 210,000 acres. Klamath Falls, Oregon, U.S., July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

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The Bootleg fire ranks easily as the largest of at least 10 active wildfires burning across the Pacific Northwest

By Deborah Bloom

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore., July 15 (Reuters) - Firefighters struggled on Thursday to contain a massive Oregon fire that has displaced hundreds of residents, as new blazes erupted in neighboring states in an unusually early start to the western wildfire season.

More than 1,700 personnel, aided by 12 helicopters, increased containment lines around the Bootleg fire to 7% from 5% on Wednesday, as the swiftly moving blaze threatened nearly 2,000 homes, according to inter-agency InciWeb.

The fire, which has been burning in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, about 250 miles (400 km) south of Portland, since July 6, spread over another 12,000 acres overnight to more than 227,000 acres (91,860 hectares), InciWeb said.

"This is going to continue to grow – the extremely dry vegetation and weather are not in our favor," Incident Commander Joe Hessel said on Twitter.

No injuries have been linked to the Bootleg fire, officials said, but it has destroyed 21 homes and 54 other structures, and forced hundreds from their homes. Many have taken refuge in Red Cross evacuation center at the Klamath Falls fairgrounds.

The Bootleg fire ranks easily as the largest of at least 10 active wildfires burning across the Pacific Northwest, and the seventh largest on record in Oregon since 1900, according to state forestry figures.

With drought conditions and a recent heat wave parching several western states, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho reported that 71 large fires have burned about 1 million acres (404,680 hectares).

One of them, the Dixie fire, started abruptly on Wednesday in Butte County, California, not far from Paradise, a mountain town devastated by a 2018 fire that killed 85 civilians and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures in the state's deadliest wildfire year.

The Dixie fire has charred about 2,250 acres (910 hectares) in its first 24 hours as some 500 personnel battled the blaze which is spreading across a steep, rocky tree-filled terrain about 85 miles (140 km) north of Sacramento.

Erik Wegner of the U.S. Forest Service said the dead wood and dense trees along the mountain made conditions ripe for the blaze ignite and move through the area quickly. "It took off really fast," he told Reuters.

The blaze prompted the Butte County Sheriff's Office to warn residents in and around the tiny community of Pulga to be ready to evacuate.

"Please remember that conditions can change rapidly and we urge our community members to be prepared and have a plan in place for your family and your pets," the sheriff's office said in on Twitter on Wednesday.

In Washington, meanwhile, officials said they had contained about 20% of the Chuweah Creek fire near Nespelem, about 175 miles east northeast of Seattle, which has burned some 22,900 acres (9,270 hectares) mostly on the Confederated Tribes' Colville Reservation.

The blaze, caused by lightning and first reported on Monday, has been fueled by dry grass and timber with gusty winds as firefighters used planes and helicopters to drop water and fire retardant on it. (Reporting by Deborah Bloom in Klamath Falls, Oregon; Additional reporting by David Ryder in Nespelem, Washington and Mathieu Lewis Rolland in Butte County, Washington; Writing and additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)