Wildfires in southern Oregon double in size, bring smoke

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
July 10, 2021 9:36 p.m. Updated: July 10, 2021 10:26 p.m.

For a second day, Oregon’s largest wildfire, burning near Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon, doubled in size overnight.

By Sunday morning the Bootleg Fire, had blown up to nearly 144,000 acres, threatening a transmission line that brings power to Northern California, forcing level 2 and level 3 evacuation orders for residents northeast of Klamath Falls to “get ready” or “go now” and requiring fire crews to fall back to predetermined safety zones. High temperatures, dry conditions and gusty afternoon winds are expected to continue to drive the fire.

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A Level 3 “go now” evacuation order for north of Beatty, Oregon, was expanded to include the Sycan Estates Area, where officials ordered people to leave immediately because of imminent dangers from the wildfire.

The fire, which remains 0% contained, was moving east towards high voltage power lines. Power grid operators in California warned of energy shortages amid a heat wave that’s sending many parts of the state into the triple digits.

“The fire was moving in and through the powerlines,” Gayne Sears, a Forest Service public information officer for the Bootleg Fire, told OPB Saturday afternoon. “The companies made decisions, or there was enough fire and smoke that the lines did go down some, but they’ve been working very carefully with the firefighters to re-energize in safe manners.”

Sears said she didn’t know whether they were currently online.

As of Friday, Sears said, there were more than 1,500 structures threatened and that the size of the evacuation zone had increased roughly 20-fold Saturday. She said the new evacuation zone was less populated compared to communities on the fire’s southern flanks.

Dry fuels and low humidity allowed the Bootleg Fire to grow to the east and north overnight.

“The weather is very hot, very, very dry and very, very conducive to growth of this fire, both during the day and at night,” Sears said.

ODOT images of the Jack Fire along Oregon Highway 138.

ODOT images of the Jack Fire along Oregon Highway 138.

Oregon Department of Transportation

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More than 580 firefighters are working the fire, including 10 helicopters as well as other fixed-wing aircraft. Firefighters have focused their suppression efforts on residents and communities along the south and western areas of the fire.

Additional firefighting resources have been ordered and are on the way, Sears said.

The Bootleg Fire started July 6, on the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Its cause remains under investigation.

Elsewhere in Southern Oregon, the Jack Fire east of Roseburg was burning about 14 square miles. Forest Service campgrounds were also under mandatory evacuations, including Apple Creek, Horseshoe Bend and Eagle Rock.

Although many people have been evacuated, the fires are burning in remote enough locations that impact to human life and property has been somewhat limited, the Statesman Journal reported.

Oregon’s wildfire season began early this year due to a deepening drought and record-high early summer temperatures.

Gov. Kate Brown in late June declared a state of emergency because of what she called the imminent threat of wildfire across the state and has declared emergency orders on both the Jack and Bootleg fires.

Smoke from the growing blazes moved to the north on Friday night, giving people on the edges of the Willamette Valley a view of the haze being produced by the two fires in southern Oregon.

However, northwest Oregon’s air quality is not expected to be impacted this weekend and it wouldn’t be until Monday that there might even be a chance of some haze, National Weather Service meteorologist John Bumgardner said.

It’s a different story in southern Oregon, where the air quality monitors have already dropped to “moderate” in the Klamath Falls area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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