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Winds Whip Oregon Wildfire Bigger Than New York City

'Fire clouds' complicate the battle
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 16, 2021 5:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – Firefighters scrambled Friday to control a raging inferno in southeastern Oregon that's spreading miles a day in windy conditions, one of numerous wildfires across the West that are straining resources. Crews had to flee the fire lines late Thursday after a dangerous "fire cloud" started to collapse, threatening them with strong downdrafts and flying embers, the AP reports. A review Friday showed the Bootleg Fire destroyed 67 homes and 117 outbuildings overnight in one county. Authorities were still counting the losses in a second county where the flames are surging up to 4 miles a day. The blaze has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings that include homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border, said Holly Krake, a spokeswoman for fire agencies. Active flames are surging along 200 miles of the fire's perimeter, she said, and the blaze is expected to merge with a smaller but equally explosive fire by nightfall. The Bootleg Fire is now 377 square miles—larger than the area of New York City—and mostly uncontained.

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"We're likely going to continue to see fire growth over miles and miles of active fire line," Krake said. "We are continuing to add thousands of acres a day, and it has the potential each day, looking forward into the weekend, to continue those 3- to 4-mile runs." The inferno has stymied firefighters for a week with erratic winds and extremely dangerous fire behavior, including ominous fire clouds that form from superheated air rising to a height of up to 6 miles above the blaze. "We're expecting those same exact conditions to continue and worsen into the weekend," Krake said of the fire-induced clouds. Early on, the fire doubled in size almost daily, and strong winds Thursday again pushed the flames rapidly. Similar winds gusting up to 30 mph were expected Friday. It's burning an area north of the California border that has been gripped by extreme drought, like most of the West. At least a dozen major fires are burning elsewhere in Oregon as well as in Washington state and California.

(Read more wildfires stories.)

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