PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With Oregon fighting several major wildfires this week, including the largest in the nation, Gov. Kate Brown warned the situation will likely get worse as the season rolls on.
The Bootleg Fire—roughly 400,000 acres—is larger than the city of Los Angeles. Officials expect dry conditions could grow the fire by as much as another 100,000 acres. It’s currently under 40% contained.
Several thousand firefighters are assigned to the wildfires across the state, Brown said. “The good news is there’s a lot of excellent work happening on the ground to protect Oregonians, to protect our homes, and our land.” She also blamed “climate change playing out before our eyes” for the destructive fires and said she is working on legislation for climate action.
Asked if the state needs to do a better job of forest management in the off-season, such as thinning forests to prevent these massive fires, Brown said yes. “I’ve been very, very clear we are working hard to increase our level of thinning and prescriptive burning to create healthier landscapes,” the governor said.
Doug Grafe, the chief of fire protection with the Oregon Department of Forestry, blamed the drought for the extreme start to the fire season. “Drought conditions across Oregon is driving fire potential,” he said but acknowledged more needs to be done. He said the fires have already burned 17 times the 10-year average of acres burned on ODF-protected lands.
Even though the major fires are not near the Portland metro area, the governor warned everyone during the press conference to get ready just in case—to pack up important documents and medications and put an evacuation plan in place.
OEM Director Andrew Phelps also encouraged all Oregonians to be prepared now. “Have a plan for how you are going to evacuate your home and your neighborhood,” he said. “Know the evacuation routes in your community.”
FEMA chief Deanne Criswell is slated to visit Oregon Thursday to review wildfire planning and response in the state. The visit is part of a wider tour of wildfire-impacted areas in Washington, Idaho, and California this week.
As of Tuesday, the Bootleg Fire burned nearly 400,000 acres, becoming one of Oregon’s largest wildfires in modern state history. It’s spans from Klamath to Lake County, so large that smoke and heat from the blaze are creating “fire clouds” that can reach up to six miles in the sky and are visible from more than 100 miles away. creating dangerous conditions that have resulted in crews being pulled from the frontlines.
Fire officials say the energy released from the massive blaze will outweigh current weather conditions, and create the clouds on its own.
Wildfires across the West are stretching resources, according to the Northwest Interagency Center, which coordinates firefights for large uncontained fires in the region. Amid historic drought conditions, wildfires are 15 times larger this July than they were this time last year, officials with the Northwest Interagency Center said last week.