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Evacuations as America’s largest fire burns 364,000 acres

In the US state of Oregon, the nation’s largest active wildfire burned more than 364,000 acres, causing thousands of evacuations.

Over 2,000 firefighters are battling the so-called Bootleg Fire – one of the largest fires in Oregon history.

Since its launch on July 6, it has already burned down an area larger than the city of Los Angeles.

It is one of more than 80 major fires raging in 13 US states, caused by recent heatwaves and high winds.

Climate change increases the risk of hot, dry weather which is likely to fuel forest fires.

The world has already warmed by about 1.2 ° C since the start of the industrial age, and temperatures will continue to rise unless governments around the world significantly reduce emissions.

The Bootleg fire in Oregon, named after the nearby Bootleg spring, forced at least 2,000 residents of predominantly rural areas to abandon their homes. At least 160 houses and buildings have been destroyed to date. No deaths have yet been reported.

Authorities said about a third of the perimeter of the fire had been contained.

“We’ve had to fight for just about every foot of it, but we’re getting there,” John Flannigan, operations section chief, said at a press conference Monday.

Mr Flannigan described the intensity of the fire as that of a hurricane, saying it had ripped trees from the ground.

The fire has grown so large that it effectively creates its own climate. Intense forest fires, like Bootleg, move with such energy that they can create clouds of pyrocumulus – also known as “clouds of fire”. These clouds are so hot and large that they can create their own weather systems, like hurricanes and lightning.

Sayyid Bey’s home near Bly, Oregon was burned to the ground

A resident near the town of Bly whose home was destroyed by the Bootleg fire, Sayyid Bey, said he watched the blaze burn through the trees towards his property from a distance. “It was red, like we were on Mars,” he said.

The blaze, which burns 300 miles (480 km) southeast of Portland, threatens to destroy thousands of other properties as it continues to spread.

Two evacuation centers have been set up for residents of several towns, including Klamath Falls and Redmond.

Evacuations as America’s largest fire burns 364,000 acres

A NASA satellite image showing smoke rising from wildfires near Bend, Oregon – July 18, 2021

Temperatures are expected to be between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal and the area is also experiencing drought, which could worsen in the days to come. Thunder and lighting are also expected, likely to cause further fries.

Wildfires have already ravaged more than 1.2 million acres of the country this year, mostly in the western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. It marks a heavier-than-normal start to the wildfire season in the United States.

More than 4,000 fires have been recorded by the organization so far in 2021, almost double the total of last year.

In California alone, five times more acres burned compared to the same time last year.

The fire seasons are getting longer and more intense with each passing year, Nick Schuler, deputy chief of Cal Fire, told the BBC.

“Ten years ago in California, people saw wildfires as a rural problem,” he said. “Now, no matter where you live in California, people are affected. Every acre in California will burn at some point.”

The rest of the country is not spared from the destruction. On Tuesday, the east coast of the United States woke up to hazy skies and a bright red sun caused by smoke from the wildfires.

In neighboring Canada, more than 150 new fires started burning over the past weekend alone, according to the Interagency Wildland Fire Center of Canada. More than 4,300 fires have been recorded by the association in 2021 to date.

In British Columbia alone, crews are battling hundreds of fires, straining the housing available for those forced to flee.

On Tuesday, the province declared a state of emergency in response to the wildfires.

Canada has also issued health warnings due to smoke from forest fires spreading nearly 2,000 km across the country. Seniors, children, and people with cardiovascular problems are advised to limit outdoor activities and drink more water until the smoke passes.

“Winnipeg smells of campfire right now” tweeted a reporter. “I have never known such smoke in my life.”

There are currently nearly 800 wildfires burning in Canada, and no signs of rain are expected for the western provinces.

Experts have told the BBC that due to a multi-year drought, the potential for a historic North American wildfire season in 2021 is “high.”

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