(Update: New acreage, containment figures)
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) —The massive Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon grew to 290,196 acres by late Saturday night, but the more than 2,000 firefighters battling the blaze had brought it to 22% containment.
Dry, unstable and windy conditions will keep fueling the massive fire, forecasters said, as the largely uncontained blaze grows by miles each day.
The Bootleg Fire was just one of numerous wildfires burning across the U.S. West.
Crews had to flee the fire lines of the Oregon blaze late Thursday after a dangerous “fire cloud” started to collapse, threatening them with strong downdrafts and flying embers. An initial review Friday showed the Bootleg Fire destroyed 67 homes and 117 outbuildings overnight in one county. Authorities were still counting the losses in a second county, where the flames are surging up to 4 miles a day.
The conflagration has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings, including homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border, fire spokeswoman Holly Krake said. Active flames are surging along 200 miles of the fire’s perimeter, she said, and it’s expected to merge with a smaller, but equally explosive fire by nightfall.
The Bootleg Fire is now 377 square miles (976 square kilometers) — larger than the area of New York City — and mostly uncontained.
“We’re likely going to continue to see fire growth over miles and miles of active fire line,” Krake said. “We are continuing to add thousands of acres a day, and it has the potential each day, looking forward into the weekend, to continue those 3- to 4-mile runs.”
A Red Flag weather warning was issued for the area through Saturday night.
The inferno has stymied firefighters for a week with erratic winds and extremely dangerous fire behavior, including ominous fire clouds that form from superheated air rising to a height of up to 6 miles above the blaze.
“We’re expecting those same exact conditions to continue and worsen into the weekend,” Krake said of the fire-induced clouds.
It’s burning an area north of the California border that has been gripped by extreme drought, like most of the American West.
The blaze was most active on its northeastern flank, pushed by winds from the south toward the rural communities of Summer Lake and Spring Lake. Paisley, to the east of the fire, was also at risk. All the towns are in Lake County, a remote area of lakes and wildlife refuges with a total population of about 8,000.
Bootleg Fire Daily Update July 17th
Location: 28 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, OR
Size: 281,208 acres
Smoke cleared early around the Bootleg Fire yesterday due to increased southwest winds, which allowed air operations to support the firefighting efforts on the ground. Firefighters utilized retardant drops and water bucket work along the northern flank and southeast corner of the fire. Crews are utilizing Sam’s Cabin Road and the 27 Road to stop fire growth to the north.
The fire also remains very active on the southeastern corner towards Grouse Prairie. Crews will continue to conduct burnout operations on this southeast corner if conditions allow. Structure protection resources will protect and secure structures in this area as necessary.
“This fire is large and moving so fast, every day it progresses four to five miles,” said Incident Commander Joe Hassel, “One of the many challenges that our firefighters face every day is working in new country that can present new hazards all the time.”
The entire south and southwest portion of the fireline has been held in check for the last several days, leading to the significant increase in containment. Evacuation status has been reduced in most of the communities in Klamath County along that flank. Crews will be seen along this portion of the fire as they continue to patrol and hold the area.
New evacuation levels were implemented and increased yesterday in areas of Lake County east of the fire.
Community Meeting: There will be an in-person community meeting at the Paisley Community Center (705 Chewaucan Street, Paisley, OR 97636) Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Evacuations: Evacuations are rapidly changing, due to the nature of this wildfire. Please visit tinyurl.com/bootlegevac for an interactive map of evacuation level in Lake and Klamath counties.
Closures: The Fremont-Winema National Forest is closed to the public in the fire area. Map and full order available at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7609/.
Smoke: Substantial smoke impacts likely in the vicinity of Paisley and Frenchglen and moderate impacts in the Lakeview area. Air quality will improve significantly in communities to the north, west, and south/southwest of the fire. Full report at: fires.airfire.org/outlooks/southcentraloregon.
Fire Information Public Phone: 541-482-1331
Hashtags: #BootlegFire #FireYear2021