Oregon Wildfire So Large That It’s Creating Its Own Weather

by Matthew Memrick
Bootleg Fire

The third-largest wildfire in Oregon history is wreaking havoc on homes, people, and even the weather system.

The Bootleg Fire began on July 6 in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, forcing evacuations to people and wildlife in Oregon. Yahoo! News said the size of the fire is roughly around 350,000 acres or 530 square miles. Despite massive firefighting efforts in the remote timber area, those aggressive numbers would likely grow this season. The fire is approximately 300 miles from Portland.

But notably, the vast smoke has created a unique set-up of clouds. Those Bootleg clouds have changed the weather system and have drifted toward cities and towns. The flames cause extreme heat which produces pyrocumulus clouds. This heat makes the air rapidly rise while killing any moisture from the smoke.

These clouds essentially become thunderstorms and can contain lightning and strong winds. A CNN report mentioned that wind gusts up to 25 miles an hour were expected over the next couple of days.

A result of the high winds could be “fire clouds,” though not reported at the fire containment site. Those clouds could spread ash and embers further past the evacuation zone. There have also been lightning strikes and reports of “fire whirls,” which are smaller than average tornadoes.

With little rain, lightning strikes, and extreme temperatures, climate change has further acerbated these conditions this season. A heatwave has brought temperatures higher than average conditions.

“It’s kind of an extreme, dangerous situation,” Chuck Redman, a forecaster from the US National Weather Service (NWS), told The New York Times about Oregon’s predicament. “It’s not a good thing.”

Bootleg Fire by the numbers

Oregon Fire Public Information Officer Sarah Gracey said the fire had pushed more than 2,000 evacuees out of the area. She also told CNN that 67 homes had been destroyed. Also, 117 minor structures, such as sheds or detached garages, have been damaged.

More than 2,000 firefighters fought the blaze, according to reports on Monday.

Drought-like conditions, including high temperatures, have fueled the wildfire and hampered efforts.

In 13 states this summer, the National Interagency Fire Center is tracking 80 large wildfires. The center has reported more than 1 million burned acres that have ravaged the country. Mainly in the western region, fires in Montana (18) and Idaho (17) top the list.

Oregon currently suffers from eight large fires, according to the NIFC.

In 2012 (Long Draw) and 2002 (Biscuit), fires took out more than a million acres. These fires are among the worst in the Northwest state’s history. The Long Draw one accounted for 557,028 acres.