PORTLAND, Ore. — Firefighters scrambled on Friday to control a raging inferno in southeastern Oregon that’s spreading miles a day in windy conditions, one of the numerous conflagrations across the U.S. West that are straining resources. Authorities ordered a new round of evacuations Thursday amid worries the Bootleg Fire, which has already destroyed 21 homes, could merge with another blaze that also grew explosively amid dry and blustery conditions.
The Bootleg Fire, the largest wildfire currently burning in the U.S., had torched more than 377 square miles (976 square kilometers) by Friday morning and was just 7% contained. It has stymied firefighters for nearly a week with erratic winds and dangerous fire behavior. Early on, the fire doubled in size almost daily, and strong winds from the south on Thursday afternoon yet again pushed the flames rapidly to the north and east.
The fire can move 4 miles (6 kilometers) or more in an afternoon, and there was concern it could merge with the smaller yet still explosive Log Fire, said Rob Allen, incident commander for the blaze. That fire started Monday as three smaller fires but exploded to nearly 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) in 24 hours and was still growing, fanned by the same winds, Allen said.
Firefighters were all pulled back to safe areas late Thursday due to intense fire behavior and were scouting ahead of the main blaze for places where they could make a stand by carving out fire lines to stop the inferno’s advance, he said. Crews are watching the fire, nearby campgrounds “and any place out in front of us to make sure the public’s out of the way,” Allen said. He said evacuation orders were still being assessed.
The Bootleg fire is affecting an area north of the Oregon-California border that has been gripped by extreme drought. On Thursday, authorities decided to expand previous evacuation orders near Summer Lake and Paisley. Both towns are located in Lake County, a remote area of lakes and wildlife refuges just north of the California border with a total population of about 8,000.