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Firefighting conditions mixed across Oregon as Bootleg Fire remains focus

Strategic firing operations Friday, July 16, on Oregon's Bootleg Fire, which was the biggest wildfire in the U.S.
Strategic firing operations Friday, July 16, on Oregon's Bootleg Fire, which was the biggest wildfire in the U.S.

Dry and hot conditions persist in many parts of Oregon as fire officials predict a grueling weekend in the fight slow the spread of several fires.

Nearly all of Oregon is in severe, extreme or “exceptional” drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, following extreme heat waves and dry conditions that started in late spring and early summer.

Firefighters said they are working containment lines on the biggest fires in Oregon, and hoping those lines are enough to prevent windy conditions from spotting new fires.

The largest fire in Oregon, and in the country, remains the Bootleg Fire, which had burned more than 281,000 acres by Saturday morning — an area larger than New York City — as it scorched across part of Klamath County and has now stretched into Lake County.

Fire officials said a large pyrocumulus cloud created by the fire and its smoke “collapsed” Friday afternoon, “spreading embers to the east of the main fire and prompting additional evacuation notices for the communities of Summer Lake and Spring Lake.”

The fire continues to threaten more than 5,000 residences, with at least 21 destroyed so far. Another 54 structures have also been destroyed.

“The Bootleg Fire perimeter is more than 200 miles long — that’s an enormous amount of line to build and hold,” said Rob Allen, the incident commander for the fire. “We are continuing to use every resource, from dozers to air tankers, to engage where it’s safe to do so especially with the hot, dry, windy conditions predicted to worsen into the weekend.”

As the fire, which was around 22% contained Saturday morning, continues to burn to the north and east, fire officials predict it is likely to merge with the nearly 5,200-acre Log Fire burning just south of Spring Lake, before the weekend is over.

Extra firefighters who specialize in protecting structures were expected to arrive Saturday in Southern Oregon.

Firefighters in Central Oregon benefited from cooler temperatures and increased relative humidity Friday night, as they continue to contend with a pair of wildfires near La Pine and Sisters.

Hand crews held lines Friday on the Darlene Fire, laying hose and working on mop up along established fire lines. Those crews hope to continue that work Saturday as they hold the 686-acre fire just south of La Pine. The fire was around 35% contained Saturday morning. Level 3 “go now” evacuation orders remain in place for homes “on Darlene Way south of La Pine to the Deschutes/Klamath County line, and along Old Ice Cave Road,” according to an incident report.

Firefighters saw similar success Friday as they worked the Grandview Fire, 10 miles northeast of Sisters. A red flag warning over the fire area expired at 11 p.m. Friday. The fire did not grow appreciably Friday, and remains around 6,000 acres as of Saturday morning.

Two helicopters from the Oregon National Guard are scheduled to assist crews Saturday as they fight the Grandview Fire, which is around 31% contained.

Central Oregon residents should check the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office for the latest information on evacuation notices.

The Elbow Creek Fire, which is burning grass and timber lands in the northeastern corner of Oregon, has quickly grown to around 10,940 acres since igniting Thursday. The fire is burning on both sides of the Grand Ronde River basin, and is located around 30 miles south of Walla Walla, Washington.

Hot and windy conditions pushed the fire Friday, primarily to the north and east. The Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office issued Level 3 “go now” evacuation notices for the communities of Troy and Eden Bench on Friday, as well as other areas in the direct path of the fire. Those evacuation notices remained in effect Saturday.

“Today firefighters will focus on establishing access points to the fire and securing an anchor point where firefighters can build containment lines, utilizing aircraft to slow fire spread where needed,” the U.S. Forest Service said in its Saturday morning update.

The fire remained fully uncontained Saturday morning, but more resources were expected to arrive throughout the day.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act on Friday to bring more resources to crews there.

Fire officials expect hot and dry conditions to persist through the end of next week.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting