July 27, 2021

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The Bootleg Fire in Oregon is so large, it’s creating its own weather – CNN

3 min read
CNN —  

As hot, dry weather conditions continue to fuel wildfires across much of the United States, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon has become so intense that it is creating its own weather.

The Bootleg Fire has scorched 537 square miles – an area larger than Los Angeles and about half the size of Rhode Island. It grew to nearly 364,113 acres Monday and is 30% contained, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesperson Marcus Kauffman told CNN.

It’s one of at least eight large fires burning in Oregon and one of at least 80 burning across 13 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The climate crisis has made deadlier and more destructive wildfires the new normal.

A pyrocumulus cloud from the Bootleg Fire drifts into the air Friday near Bly, Oregon.
Payton Bruni/AFP/Getty Images
A pyrocumulus cloud from the Bootleg Fire drifts into the air Friday near Bly, Oregon.

Much of the West remains under the threat of fire conditions Tuesday, with nearly 3.5 million people under red flag warnings, according to a tweet from the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center. A red flag warning means “critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly,” the prediction center said.

Excessive heat warnings will continue for more than 337,000 people, and nearly 650,000 more are under a heat advisory.

Temperatures in the region will remain up to 10 degrees above normal over the next 48 hours, CNN Meteorologist Michael Guy said. There’s also a chance of dry storms, which lack the precipitation that is desperately needed to help calm the flames.

While some sporadic rain is possible across the Intermountain West, “this is not really going to do much in the way of fighting any of the wildfires out West,” Guy said.

“Some rain may fall from afternoon storms, but it not be enough to stop or put out the fires that are ongoing,” he said.

The Bootleg Fire is changing the weather

A satellite image posted by the weather service shows smoke from the fires in western Canada and the Intermountain West billowing over the region.

In Oregon, fire officials noted the Bootleg Fire is showing “aggressive surface spread with pyrocumulus development.”

Pyrocumulus clouds form when extreme heat from the flames of a wildfire force the air to rapidly rise, condensing and cooling any moisture on smoke particles produced by the fire. These clouds essentially become their own thunderstorms and can contain lightning and strong winds.

The fire is “so large and generating so much energy and extreme heat that it’s changing the weather,” Kauffman explained. “Normally, the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”

The prolonged drought is also fueling the fire conditions, and Kauffman anticipated the massive blaze will continue to grow.

“The fire is burning is dense fuels that are extremely dry from a prolonged drought. Up until today, the weather has been consistently hot, dry with near single digit humidity,” he said.

Third-largest fire in state history

The Bootleg Fire began on July 6 in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the California border and has spared little in its path. More than 2,000 people are currently evacuated from their homes, according to Fire Public Information Officer Sarah Gracey.

Sixty-seven homes have been destroyed, along with 117 minor structures, such as sheds or detached garages, Gracey said.

The fire has averaged a rate of spread nearly 1,100 acres per hour for more than 13 consecutive days – a rate that would burn through New York’s Central Park in only 45 minutes.

And there appears to be little hope for progress against the flames as wind gusts up to 25 mph are expected over the next couple of days, Guy said.

The Bootleg Fire is the third-largest wildfire in the state’s history, Kauffman said. The Long Draw Fire in 2012 burned 557,028 acres and is the largest wildfire in Oregon since 1900, Kauffman said. The Biscuit Fire in 2002 became the state’s second-largest fire, burning nearly 500,000 acres.

CNN’s Jenn Selva and Brandon Miller contributed to this report.

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