Oregon’s biggest fire – and nation’s – grows, forcing wildlife station evacuation
Firefighters were forced to back down as blazes, blown by winds and fueled by dry bone conditions, jumped fire-resistant containment lines and pushed up to 4 miles into new territory, authorities said.
The destructive Bootleg Fire in south-central Oregon lies just north of the California border and has grown to over 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area the size of Los Angeles.
Fire crews were also rushing to stem several “mud fires” – patches of flame that escaped lines of fire meant to contain the blaze – before they escalated. One of these small fires already covered an area of almost 10 square kilometers. Thunderstorms with dry lightning were also possible on Monday, increasing dangers.
“We are conducting firefighting operations all day and all night,” said Joe Hessel, incident commander. “This fire is a real challenge, and we envision a sustained battle for the foreseeable future. “
On Monday, the blaze reached the southern edge of Sycan Marsh, a private wetland that is home to thousands of migrating birds and is a key wetland restoration research station.
The blaze, which was 25% contained, burned at least 67 homes and 100 buildings while threatening thousands more in a remote landscape of forests, lakes and wildlife refuges.
At the other end of the state, a fire in the mountains of northeastern Oregon reached nearly 49 square kilometers.
The Elbow Creek fire that started Thursday caused evacuations in several small rural communities around the Grande Ronde River about 50 kilometers southeast of Walla Walla, Wash. It was 10% content.
The region’s natural features act as a funnel for the wind, fueling the flames and making them unpredictable, officials said.
Meteorologists have predicted extremely dangerous fire weather conditions with lightning possible at least until Monday in California and southern Oregon.
“With very dry fuels, any thunderstorm has the potential to trigger new fires,” the National Weather Service of Sacramento, Calif., Said on Twitter.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change swept through the region, making forest fires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
Firefighters said in July they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall.
Pacific Gas & Electric equipment may have been involved in the startup of Dixie Fire in California, the country’s largest utility reported to regulators in that state.
Related: Residents of Gates, Oregon direct their anger at Pacific Power nearly a year after their town burned down
PG&E said in a report to the California Public Utilities Commission on Sunday that a repairman responding to a circuit outage on July 13 spotted blown fuses in a conductor atop a pole, a tree leaning against the conductor and a fire at the base of the tree.
The Dixie Fire has grown to nearly 47 square miles (122 square kilometers), much of it in isolated wilderness. The utility said investigators from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection recovered material at the scene.
PG&E equipment has been linked on several occasions to major forest fires, including a fire in 2018 that ravaged the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.
At least 16 major fires were burning in the Pacific Northwest alone, according to the Forest Service.