The Bootleg fire in Oregon, which destroyed more than 150 structures and displaced thousands of people, is so large that officials say it may not be fully extinguished until November.
As of Wednesday morning, the massive fire in southern Oregon – currently the largest wildfire in the country – consumed nearly 400,000 acres, a 625 square mile swath comparable in size to half of Rhode Island. Only 32% of the fire is contained.
The fire is so large that it spawns pyrocumulous clouds, columns of superheated smoke and ash that can reach up to 6 miles high and generate their own strong lightning and winds. These, in turn, can start and spread further fires, creating a cycle of destruction.
“Normally, the weather predicts what the fire will do,” Oregon Forest Department spokesman Marcus Kauffman told CNN on Tuesday. “In this case, the fire predicts what time will do. “
Fire officials said on Wednesday lightning or some other natural cause likely sparked the massive July 6 fire, which aggressively spread through a combination of gusty winds and extremely dry fuel. An unprecedented heat wave in late June left 90% of the state in exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded the heatwave would have been “practically impossible” without climate change.
PNW Incident Management Commander Rob Allen warned on Tuesday that the fight would be “a marathon, not a sprint.”
“We’re in there for as long as it takes to safely contain this monster,” he said.
The blaze may not be fully extinguished until moisture falls over the area in late October or November, firefighting chief Katy O’Hara told the Washington Post.
No one has died so far, according to the Associated Press.
However, at least 70 houses and 100 outbuildings have so far been destroyed, some 2,000 houses have been evacuated and 5,000 others threatened. (In slightly better news, firefighters confirmed to The Oregonian that a monument to the Americas’ only victims of enemy action during World War II has survived.)
“There is absolutely no doubt that climate change is playing out before our eyes,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We saw the heated dome event a few weeks ago. We unfortunately lost a lot of Oregonians because of this event. In February, we saw devastating ice storms. Over half a million people lost electricity last fall, as you well know. We have had unprecedented forest fires. “
“It is extremely important that we (…) fight climate change, from reducing our dependence on fossil fuels to transitioning to clean energy as quickly as possible,” Brown added.
Nearly 80 large fires are currently burning in the American West. They destroyed over 1.3 million acres of land, an area of 2,031 square miles larger than the state of Delaware. Smoke from the fires even darkened the skies of New York – about 3,000 kilometers away – on Tuesday.
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