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‘We haven’t peaked yet’: Oregon already outpacing historic, devastating 2020 wildfire season

(Update: adding video, new info, comments from NWCC)

At over 388,000 acres, Bootleg Fire now fourth-largest wildfire in state in over a century

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- After Oregon declared the earliest start to the wildfire season in more than 40 years, experts say that large-scale blazes are breaking out earlier than ever. Compared to past summers, the year-to-date numbers for 2021 make clear just how unusual this is.

"The conditions are going to remain the same, if not get worse," warned Carol Connolly, the PIO for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. "We need to be poised and prepared for a long fire season."

So far this year, there have already been 26 large Oregon wildfires, which have burned more than 558,383 acres.

By July 20 of last year, Oregon had only seven large fires, which burned 4,727 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. At the end of the 2020 season, the wildfires collectively torched 1,141,613 acres, making it one of the most destructive seasons in Oregon's history. The season also started on July 5, which is nearly two months after the 2021 season began, on May 13.

"When we look back at historically how our season peak, we haven't peaked yet," Connolly told NewsChannel 21 Tuesday. "We will still see fire activity on the landscape through August and September. "

Nearly 70% of this year's acreage comes from the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, which as of Tuesday had grown to 388,359 acres, and besides being the nation's largest current wildfire is now the fourth-largest individual fire in Oregon since records began in 1900.

The other three mega-fires also happened within the last 19 years: the Long Draw Fire in Basque (which burned 558,198 acres in 2012), the Biscuit Fire in southern Oregon (burned 500,000 acres in 2002) and the Buzzard Complex Fire southeast of Burns (burned 395,747 acres in 2014).

This all coming on the heels of the 2019 wildfire season, which was the mildest in 15 years. The 2021 numbers are already closing in on the end-of-season stats from 2018 (883,404 acres) and 2017 (759,833 acres), with the usual spike still on the way.

"We cannot afford any human-caused fires," Connolly said. "Every new human-caused fire is going to take critical resources away from the fires we already have, and away from those naturally occurring wildfires we can't prevent."

Connolly said last year's fires cost more than $442 million to fight, and that number is likely to continue to grow. It also wiped out nearly 4,300 homes.

So far this year, Connolly said the fires have cost $90 million and destroyed 71 homes.

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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.


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