A combination of high temperatures and lightning has Oregon fire officials bracing for what could be a challenging few days.
“We do have a large amount of fire across all of our lands,” state Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said during a Thursday call with reporters. “The next 72 hours will be critical.”
This fire season has been longer and more severe than usual in Oregon and across the West, which has stretched resources thin.
More than 550,000 acres had burned in Oregon as of Thursday, most of them in the mammoth Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon.
The blaze of more than 400,000 acres remained 98% contained on Thursday. Oregon Department of Forestry Chief of Fire Protection Doug Grafe said during Thursday’s press briefing that crews have “lots of confidence we’re going to hold that fire where it is now.”
Bootleg is one of Oregon’s 14 large fires or complexes, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Lightning contributed to the start of many of those fires last week, including the Skyline Ridge and Devil’s Knob complexes east of Canyonville, as well as the Middle Fork Complex near Oakridge.
The concern now is that those fires, which have little to no containment, could balloon this weekend and that extreme weather could lead to even more fire starts. Oregon is in peak lightning season during a summer marked by record-shattering heat waves and unrelenting drought.
“We have a tough forecast for the next few days,” Grafe said.
The U.S. Forest Service has urged Oregon residents, including those in the Portland metro area, to prepare for degraded air quality because of wildfire smoke this weekend.