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Oregon's Bootleg Fire Is Just Enormous

Its size, relative impact underscores the vastness of the US West
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 20, 2021 12:35 AM CDT

(Newser) – The monstrous wildfire burning in Oregon has grown to a third the size of Rhode Island and spreads miles each day, but evacuations and property losses have been minimal compared with much smaller blazes in densely populated areas of California, the AP reports. The fire's jaw-dropping size contrasted with its relatively small impact on people underscores the vastness of the American West and offers a reminder that Oregon, which is larger than Britain, is still a largely rural state, despite being known mostly for its largest city, Portland. The 476-square-mile Bootleg Fire, Oregon's fourth-largest in modern times, is burning 300 miles southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, a vast expanse of old-growth forest, lakes, and wildlife refuges. Pushed by strong winds from the southwest, the fire is spreading rapidly to the north and east, advancing toward an area that's increasingly remote. The megafire, which is 25% contained, could burn until late fall or even early winter.

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If the fire were in densely populated parts of California, “it would have destroyed thousands of homes by now,” said James Johnston, a researcher with Oregon State University's College of Forestry who studies historical wildfires. “But it is burning in one of the more remote areas of the lower 48 states. It's not the Bay Area out there.” At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames. Thick smoke chokes the area where residents and wildlife alike have already been dealing with months of drought and extreme heat. No one has died. Evacuation orders on the fire's southern edge, closer to more populous areas like Klamath Falls and Bly, have been lifted or relaxed as crews gain control. Now it's small, unincorporated communities like Paisley and Long Creek—both with fewer than 250 people—and scattered homesteads that are in the crosshairs. (Officials are calling for outside help.)

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