Firefighters in Oregon faced drier and windier conditions late Saturday, which fueled significant growth in the state’s biggest wildfire.
The Bootleg Fire in Klamath and Lake counties swelled to more than 300,000 acres as of Monday morning, an increase of around 17,000 acres from its status Saturday afternoon. The fire remained at 25% containment, as fire lines along the western and southern sides continued to hold.
“Red Flag weather conditions played a significant role in fire behavior yesterday,” fire managers said in a statement Sunday. “Structure protection groups today will be focused on homes along the 34 and 28 roads.”
The fire, which started July 6, is currently the largest in the country. Its intense heat and massive smoke column are capable of producing their own weather system; the fire has generated multiple pyrocumulus clouds, and an extreme “firestorm” cloud, known as a pyrocumulonimbus, that generated high winds and lightning strikes.
“It’s been a very tough incident to date. We have had day after day of explosive fire growth, which forces us to sometimes pull our firefighters back, to retreat. Essentially, to chase fire. It’s exhausting,” said Marcus Kauffman, a spokesman with the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Incident Management Team One.
“We’re seeing the kinds of conditions, these kinds of extreme fire behavior at a time of year that we usually don’t see it.”
Winds from the southwest continued to push the fire east and north overnight. Fire managers released a map Sunday morning showing most of the growth came overnight along the fire’s east flank, stretching into Lake County.
Photo of the Day: How big is big? At 467 sq mi, the #BootlegFire is approx the size of Los Angeles, CA and nearly 40% of the size of Rhode Island. #FireYear2021 pic.twitter.com/SUB3DxiOFq— Bootleg Fire Information (@BootlegFireInfo) July 18, 2021
Fire officials said crews are building “contingency lines” to the north and south of the fire in case hot weather conditions prevent containment efforts.
“These contingency lines may be used as the fire continues to march towards the communities of Paisley, Summer Lake, and Silver Lake,” fire officials wrote.
The fire has already destroyed at least 67 homes, and is threatening another 3,100, according to the latest figures.
Firefighters were able to save a significant local historic site, however. The Mitchel monument, near Bly, commemorates the site of the only American casualties on US soil during World War II. Historic markers and a shrapnel-scarred tree mark the place where five children and one woman were killed by a Japanese balloon bomb that had drifted across the Pacific.
The fire burned directly over the site, but firefighters were able to protect the monument from destruction by clearing brush and trees, spraying fire retardant, and wrapping the heritage tree and other parts of the site in fire-resistant material.
Because the weather conditions are creating fire instability, safety officials have asked residents of the area to check evacuation maps regularly for the latest information. See more information on evacuation level increases announced early Sunday morning.
Residents living to the north and east of the fire should also expect significant smoke Sunday as winds push polluted air in those directions.
Bruler Fire: The Bruler Fire in central Oregon has remained at 156 acres over the past few days since cooler temperatures, light winds and higher humidity helped firefighters by reducing fire activity, according to a Sunday morning statement from incident commander Brian Gales.
Large portions or Forest Service lands south of Detroit Lake, west of Highway 22 and north of Highway 20 remain closed.
Elbow Creek Fire: Some Wallowa County residents are opting to stay behind and protect their homes, even as the Elbow Creek Fire has prompted Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation notices.
The Elbow Creek fire is burning around 10,940 acres along the Grand Ronde River basin, southeast of Walla Walla, Washington. The fire spread quickly after being ignited Thursday.
Sheriff’s office officials told the Wallowa County Chieftain that a small number of residents have opted to stay behind and build protections around their homes rather than leave under an evacuation order.
“There were a couple of people who did leave and there’s some staying,” Wallow County emergency services director Paul Karvoski told the paper. “Most of them aren’t even there, so you’ve maybe got only two or three homes up there with people actually in them.”
The Elbow Creek Fire was around 10% contained as of Sunday morning, and threatens around 156 residences.