Massive Oregon wildfire grows worse, forcing more residents to flee

By David Ryder

BLY, Ore. (Reuters) – Fed by hot, dry winds, the country’s biggest wildfire ripped through more acreage in a southern Oregon forest on Monday, with more than 2,100 residents near the California border ordered from their homes, officials said.

An army of nearly 2,200 fire-fighting personnel battling the so-called Bootleg fire about 250 miles (400 km) south of Portland increased their containment lines overnight to 25% of its perimeter from 22%, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Marcus Kauffman said.

“We are fighting the fire aggressively and there are active efforts to build a containment line, both direct and indirect, wherever it is safe to do so,” Kauffman said.

The fire grew by an additional 4,000 acres overnight to nearly 304,000 acres (123,020 hectares), he said.

Record-breaking heat has baked much of the West in recent weeks, killing hundreds of people. Scientists have said the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires are largely attributable to prolonged drought and increasing bouts of excessive heat.

Since it started nearly two weeks ago, the Bootleg fire has taken advantage of favorable weather conditions which are forecast to continue.

The National Weather Service in Medford forecast steady winds, which are pushing the fire toward the north and east, of about 15 miles per hour (24 km per hour), with gusts up to 25 mph, low humidity and temperatures topping 90 Fahrenheit (32 Celsius).

Even the 15% chance of thunderstorms forecast for the area around Klamath County and the Fremont-Winema National Forest was unwelcome news for firefighters.

“Thunderstorms often just come with dry lightning and wind and don’t necessarily produce any precipitation,” said Kauffman, adding that they can also produce unhelpful wind gusts.

Two evacuation centers, one at the Klamath Falls fairgrounds and one at a middle school in Lakeview, have been set up for residents displaced by the fire, which has destroyed 67 homes and is threatening 2,460 more.

The Bootleg fire is the largest of 80 active wildfires that have burned nearly 1.2 million acres in 13 states and are being battled by more than 19,600 firefighters and support personnel, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

In California, PG&E Corp, the state’s largest power company, said its equipment may have been involved starting the Dixie fire last Tuesday in a remote, difficult to reach area about 85 miles (140 km) north of Sacramento.

That wildfire has burned more than over 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares) as more than 1,900 fire-fighting personnel have set up containment lines over 15% of its perimeter, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The so-called Dixie fire, the biggest in the state, prompted some evacuation orders for Plumas and Butte counties, it said.

In an incident report to state regulators on Sunday that PG&E described as preliminary, the company said one of its workers last Tuesday found blown fuses on a utility pole and spotted a fire near the base of a tree that was leaning into a conductor. The worker reported the fire, it said.

Thirteen months ago, the company pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from a devastating 2018 wildfire touched off by its power lines that destroyed much of the nearby town of Paradise.

(Reporting by David Ryder in Bly, Oregon; Writing by Peter Szekely; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Oregon wildfire displaces 2,000 residents as blazes flare across U.S. West

By Deborah Bloom

KLAMATH FALLS, Oregon (Reuters) -Hand crews backed by water-dropping helicopters struggled on Thursday to suppress a huge wildfire that displaced roughly 2,000 residents in southern Oregon, the largest among dozens of blazes raging across the drought-stricken western United States.

The Bootleg fire has charred more than 227,000 acres (91,860 hectares) of desiccated timber and brush in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest since erupting on July 6 about 250 miles (400 km) south of Portland.

That total, exceeding the land mass of New York City, was 12,000 acres higher than Wednesday’s tally. Strike teams have carved containment lines around 7% of the fire’s perimeter, up from 5% a day earlier, but Incident Commander Joe Hessel said the blaze would continue to expand.

“The extremely dry vegetation and weather are not in our favor,” Hessel said on Twitter.

More than 1,700 firefighters and a dozen helicopters were assigned to the blaze, with demand for personnel and equipment across the Pacific Northwest beginning to strain available resources, said Jim Gersbach, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

“It’s uncommon for us to reach this level of demand on firefighting resources this early” in the season, he said.

Firefighter Garrett Souza, 42, a resident of the nearby town of Chiloquin, said Wednesday he and his team spent 39 hours straight on the “initial attack” of the fire last week.

“It’s the cumulative fatigue that really, I think, wears a person out over time,” he told Reuters, as he took a break from hacking at hotspots in the burn area.

No serious injuries have been linked to the Bootleg fire, officials said, but it has destroyed at least 21 homes and 54 other structures, and forced an estimated 2,000 people from several hundred dwellings placed under evacuation. Nearly 2,000 homes were threatened.


The Bootleg ranks as the largest by far of 70 major active wildfires listed on Thursday as having affected nearly 1 million acres in 11 states, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported. It was also the sixth-largest on record in Oregon since 1900, according to state forestry figures.

Other states hard hit by the latest spate of wildfires include California, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

As of Wednesday, the center in Boise put its “national wildland fire preparedness level” at 5, the highest of its five-tier scale, meaning most U.S. firefighting resources are currently deployed somewhere across the country.

The situation represents an unusually busy start to the annual fire season, coming amid extremely dry conditions and record-breaking heat that has baked much of the West in recent weeks.

Scientists have said the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires are largely attributable to prolonged drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

One newly ignited blaze drawing attention on Thursday was the Dixie fire, which erupted on Wednesday in Butte County, California, near the mountain town of Paradise, still rebuilding from a 2018 firestorm that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures in the state’s deadliest wildfire disaster.

The Dixie fire has charred about 2,250 acres (910 hectares) in its first 24 hours as some 500 personnel battled the blaze, which was spreading across a steep, rocky tree-filled terrain about 85 miles (140 km) north of Sacramento.

Erik Wegner of the U.S. Forest Service said dense stands of dead and dying trees created highly combustible conditions for the blaze. “It took off really fast,” he told Reuters.

Authorities have issued evacuation orders and warnings for several small communities in the area.

In Washington state, firefighters have contained about 20% of a lightning-caused fire near Nespelem, which has burned nearly 23,000 acres (9,270 hectares) northeast of Seattle since Monday, mostly on tribal lands of the Colville Reservation.

There were no injuries, but the blaze killed some livestock, destroyed three houses and forced evacuations of several others, officials said.

(Reporting by Deborah Bloom in Klamath Falls, Oregon; Additional reporting by David Ryder in Nespelem, Washington, and Mathieu Lewis Rolland in Butte County, California; Writing and additional reporting by Peter Szekely and Steve Gorman; Editing by David Gregorio, Daniel Wallis and Chris Reese)

‘If you don’t leave, you’re dead:’ Oregon wildfire forces hundreds from homes

By Deborah Bloom and Sergio Olmos

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (Reuters) – A growing wildfire in a bone-dry Oregon forest had forced hundreds of people from their homes by Wednesday as it charred more than 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) and showed no signs of slowing, officials said.

The so-called Bootleg Fire, which has spread through the Fremont-Winema National Forest about 250 miles (400 km) south of Portland since July 6, has destroyed 21 homes and threatened 1,926 more, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

By Wednesday morning, the fire had left a thick haze over nearby Klamath Falls, where the local fairgrounds were turned into a Red Cross evacuation center.

Tim McCarley, one of the evacuees, told Reuters earlier this week that sheriff’s deputies and state troopers showed up at his home just as “sparks and embers were coming down” and told his family “if you don’t leave, you’re dead.”

“This is my first wildfire and I’m going to tell you, it is scary,” another evacuated resident, Sarah Kose, added this week. “You don’t know if you’re going to be the one that loses your house, or you sit there and you watch your neighbor lose their house, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The Bootleg Fire is the biggest of several wildfires scorching parts of Western states, where a drought and a recent record-setting heat wave have left brush and timber highly flammable.

So far, it has burned more than 212,000 acres (330 square miles), including about 50,000 acres (20,230 hectares) on Monday alone, and crews have managed to put containment lines around only 5% of it.

In all, 60 large fires have consumed more than 1 million acres (404,680 hectares) across 12 states this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, a firefighting group combining eight federal agencies.

Last year, numerous late summer wildfires, fueled by gusty winds and hot, dry terrain, killed more than three dozen people and charred more than 10.2 million acres (4.1 million hectares) in California, Oregon and Washington.

Earlier in the week, flames burning along a high-voltage power corridor connecting Oregon’s electricity grid with California’s affected power supplies, prompting the agency that manages California’s power grid to issue temporary conservation alerts. But as the worst of the heat wave abated, the alerts were withdrawn.

(Reporting by Sergio Olmos in Portland, Oregon and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Deborah Bloom and Mathieu Louis-Rolland in Klamath County, Oregon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)