Active U.S. Wildfires Burning an Area Larger Than Rhode Island

The blazes of nearly 70 active wildfires destroying the western United States have reached a collective area of 1,562 square miles, larger than Rhode Island, the Associated Press reported.

The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon is the largest wildfire currently burning in the U.S. and has covered more than 355 square miles as of early Thursday after a day of extreme growth. 21 homes have been destroyed and another 1,900 remained in danger in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

"This fire is going to continue to grow," said Joe Hessel, an incident commander, in a statement. "The extremely dry vegetation and weather are not in our favor."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Wildfires Size of Rhode Island
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, WY - JULY 14: The sun sets behind the Grand Teton peak, shrouded in smoke from regional wildfires July 14, 2021 at Grand Teton National Park. The collective size of the nearly 70 wildfires plaguing the U.S. is bigger than this size of Rhode island. Natalie Behring/Getty Images

The Dixie Fire had burned 3.5 square miles (9 square kilometers) of brush and timber near the Feather River Canyon area of Butte County and moved into national forest land in neighboring Plumas County.

There was zero containment, however, and officials kept in place a warning for residents of the tiny communities of Pulga and east Concow to be ready to leave.

In its early hours, the fire raced along steep and hard-to-reach terrain about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Paradise, the foothill town that was virtually incinerated by the Camp Fire that killed 85 people.

Larry Peterson, whose home in neighboring Magalia survived the previous blaze, said some of his neighbors were getting their belongings together in case they had to flee.

"Anytime you've got a fire after what we went through, and another one is coming up, you've got to be concerned," he told KHSL-TV.

Other locals stocked up on water and other items.

"We pretty much left with our clothes on our backs" during the previous fire, said Jennifer Younie of Paradise. "So this time we are looking to be more prepared and more vigilant."

Joyce Mclean's home burned last time but she has rebuilt it and will again if necessary, she told the station.

"We just take each day as it comes and if it happens, it happens," Mclean said. "There's not much that we can do about it."

Ironically, the blackened scar of the previous blaze was standing between the fire and homes.

"Everything's pretty much burned between them and the fire," Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly told the Sacramento Bee. "Some bushes and grass have grown back, but it's probably not a direct threat at this time."

The Log Fire, which originated as three tiny fires on Monday, ballooned to more than 7.5 square miles (19 square kilometers) as winds pushed the flames eastward through wilderness.

Tim and Dee McCarley could see trees exploding into flames in their rearview mirror as they fled the fire last week at the last minute. They had put off their departure to pack more belongings and search for their missing cat.

"The sheriff's department had been there and they said, 'If you don't get out of here now, then you are going to die,'" said Tim McCarley, 67, as he, his wife and stepson rested Wednesday at a shelter at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.

"We were running around like a chicken with its head cut off, throwing stuff into the car. Then we say, 'Okay, that's it ... we got to go."

Tim McCarley was allowed to return briefly after the fire had passed over their rural community northwest of Bly. He found his home still standing and their cat inside unharmed. But the flames had crept within 5 feet (1.5 meters) of their house, the heat melting their trailer and storage units until they looked "like a melted beer can," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The National Weather Service tweeted late Wednesday that a "terrifying" satellite image showed gigantic clouds fueled by smoke and hot air had formed over the fire — a sign that the blaze was so intense it was creating its own weather, with erratic winds and the potential for fire-generated lightning.

"Please send positive thoughts and well wishes to the firefighters. ... It's a tough time for them right now," the tweet read.

Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have swept the region, making wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the American West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

An extreme heat wave late last month sucked vegetation dry in the Pacific Northwest, where firefighters say they are facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall than early July. The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center moved the region up to the highest alert level Wednesday as dry gusts were expected in some areas and new fires popped up.

In California, the state's largest fire so far this year grew to 156 square miles (404 square kilometers) north of Lake Tahoe near the Nevada state line.

The Beckwourth Complex, a merging of two lightning-caused blazes, was 68% contained but new evacuations were ordered on the north side as winds carried embers ahead of the fire, Plumas National Forest officials said Thursday morning.

The fire "has been creating its own independent weather patterns as the day progresses," a statement said.

A wildfire threatening more than 1,500 homes near Wenatchee, Washington, grew to 14 square miles (36 square kilometers) by Thursday morning and was about 10% contained, the Washington state Department of Natural Resources said.

About 200 firefighters were battling the Red Apple Fire near the north-central Washington city renowned for its apples. The fire was also threatening apple orchards and an electrical substation, but no structures have been lost, officials said.

Wildfires Reach Size of Rhode Island
Fire from the Bootleg Fire glows in the distance on Tuesday morning, July, 13, 2021 near Bly, Ore. An army of firefighters is working in hot, dry and windy weather to contain fires chewing through wilderness and burning homes across drought-stricken Western states. A high-pressure system that created the second intense heat wave of the year is weakening Tuesday, but temperatures are forecast to remain above normal on the lines of more than 60 active large fires. Nathan Howard/Associated Press