GARDNERVILLE, Nevada (AP) – A northern California wildfire swept through Nevada, prompting more evacuations, but better weather conditions helped crews fight the nation’s largest fire in southern Oregon.
The Tamarack fire south of Lake Tahoe had burned more than 176 square kilometers of lumber and chaparral at head height in National Forest lands. It erupted on July 4 and was one of nearly two dozen lightning-triggered fires.
More than 1,200 firefighters were battling the Alpine County blaze, which destroyed at least 10 buildings, forced evacuations in several communities and closed parts of US 395 in Nevada and California. Firefighters expected active or extreme fire behavior on Thursday, which could see winds of 14 mph and temperatures approaching 90 degrees.
A voluntary evacuation request has also been issued for parts of Douglas County, Nevada. An evacuation center has been set up at a community center in Gardnerville, Nevada.
Evacuee Morgana-Le-Fae Veatch said she had already canned most of her belongings because she was entering community college next week, but her parents lost their home in a fire in 1987.
“So it was really, really stressful for them,” she said.
Meanwhile, Oregon on Wednesday banned all campfires on state-managed land and state campgrounds east of Interstate 5, the main highway that is commonly seen as the dividing line between the humid western part of the state and the dry half.
The nation’s largest wildfire, Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, reached 1,601 square kilometers (618 square miles), just over half the size of Rhode Island.
However, authorities said lower winds and temperatures allowed crews to improve fire lines. The blaze was also approaching an area burned by a previous blaze on its active southeast flank, giving hope that the lack of fuel could reduce its spread.
The Oregon Blaze, which was started by lightning, ravaged the sparsely populated southern part of the state and spread for up to 4 miles per day, driven by strong winds and extremely dry weather which transformed the trees and the undergrowth into a powder keg.
Fire crews had to withdraw from the flames for 10 consecutive days as fireballs leap from treetop to treetop, trees explode, embers fly past the fire to start new fires and, in some cases, the heat of hell creates its own weather of changing winds and dry lightning. Monstrous clouds of smoke and ash rose up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) into the sky and are visible from over 100 air miles (161 kilometers).
The blaze, which is fought by more than 2,200 people, is about a third contained.
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and 5,000 more have been threatened. At least 70 houses and over 100 outbuildings have burned down, but no one is known to be dead.
Extremely dry conditions and recent heat waves linked to climate change have made 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.