Oregon Officials Concerned 2 Wildfires May Merge, Grow Into Bigger Blaze

Firefighters struggled to contain the raging inferno burning across southeastern Oregon on Friday, one of several fires devastating the Western U.S. and straining resources.

The Bootleg Fire, which has consumed 21 homes, prompted authorities to order more evacuations Thursday amid fears that it could merge with another fire gaining power from dry and blustery conditions.

Currently, the largest wildfire burning in the U.S., the Bootleg Fire had torched more than 377 square miles by Friday morning. With only seven percent of the blaze contained, firefighters have struggled for nearly a week with erratic winds and dangerous fire behavior.

The fire doubled in size almost daily early on, with strong winds from the south on Thursday afternoon pushing the flames rapidly to the north and east.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, continue below.

SHAVER LAKE, CA - JULY 15: In an aerial view, traffic winds through a barren landscape where burned trees were cut down following the Creek Fire, which began on September 4, 2020 and was fully contained on December 24, are seen on July 15, 2021 near Shaver Lake California. The 379,895-acre fire was the fourth largest recorded in California and the biggest single fire that was not part of a greater complex fire. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and scores of backpackers the path of the fire were airlifted from the wilderness in the Sierra Nevada mountains. At one point, about 1,000 people were trapped near Mammoth Pool Reservoir with more than 200 on a boat launch. Authorities are bracing for a predicted driest year on record for the Kern River, carrying only about a quarter of the average Sierra snowmelt water to Lake Isabella. Large portion of the West are now in the most extreme drought category and fire officials are warning of another devastating wildfire season in California. David McNew/Getty Images

The fire has the potential to move 4 miles (6 kilometers) or more in an afternoon and there was concern it could merge with the smaller, yet still explosive Log Fire, said Rob Allen, incident commander for the blaze. That fire started Monday as three smaller fires but exploded to nearly 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) in 24 hours and was still growing, fanned by the same winds, Allen said.

Firefighters were all pulled back to safe areas late Thursday due to intense fire behavior and were scouting ahead of the main blaze for areas where they could make a stand by carving out fire lines to stop the inferno's advance, he said.

Crews are watching the fire, nearby campgrounds "and any place out in front of us to make sure the public's out of the way," Allen said. He said evacuation orders were still being assessed.

The Bootleg fire is affecting an area north of the Oregon-California border that has been gripped by extreme drought. On Thursday, authorities decided to expand previous evacuation orders near Summer Lake and Paisley. Both towns are located in Lake County, a remote area of lakes and wildlife refuges just north of the California border with a total population of about 8,000.

It has periodically generated enormous smoke columns that could be seen for miles — a sign that the blaze is so intense it is creating its own weather, with erratic winds and the potential for fire-generated lightning.

Meanwhile, a fire near the northern California town of Paradise, which burned in a horrific 2018 wildfire, caused jitters among homeowners who were just starting to return to normal after surviving the deadliest blaze in U.S. history.

Chuck Dee and his wife, Janie, returned last year to Paradise on the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada to rebuild a home lost in that fire. So when they woke up Thursday and saw smoke from the new Dixie Fire, it was frightening, even though it was burning away from populated areas.

"It made my wife and I both nervous," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The Dixie Fire had spread over nearly 8 square miles (21 square kilometers) by Thursday night in the Feather River Canyon area northeast of Paradise. Evacuation of a wilderness recreation area was ordered and officials kept in place a warning for residents of the tiny communities of Pulga and east Concow to be ready to leave.

The Dixie Fire is part of a siege of conflagrations across the West. There were 71 active large fires and complexes of multiple fires that have burned nearly 1,553 square miles (4,022 square kilometers) in the U.S., mostly in Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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.

In the Pacific Northwest, firefighters say they are facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall than early July.

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.

Bootleg Fire
In this photo provided by the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshall, flames and smoke rise from the Bootleg fire in southern Oregon on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. The largest fire in the U.S. on Wednesday was burning in southern Oregon, to the northeast of the wildfire that ravaged a tribal community less than a year ago. The lightning-caused Bootleg fire was encroaching on the traditional territory of the Klamath Tribes, which still have treaty rights to hunt and fish on the land, and sending huge, churning plumes of smoke into the sky visible for miles. John Hendricks/Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal/AP