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Bootleg Fire Doubles Again, Threatening Transmission Lines, Firefighters And Structures

The Bootleg Fire northeast of Klamath Falls, sending smoke into the sky from above a ridgeline. Image dated July 8, 2021.
Ray Dandeneau
The Bootleg Fire northeast of Klamath Falls, sending smoke into the sky from above a ridgeline. Image dated July 8, 2021.

The fire, burning in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Klamath County, has grown four-fold in size over the weekend, and dry, hot, gusty conditions are raising danger levels.

For a third straight day, Oregon’s largest wildfire, burning near Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon, doubled in size.

By Sunday morning the Bootleg Fire had blown up to nearly 144,000 acres, or 224 square miles. Racing through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, it threatened a transmission line that brings power to Northern California, and forced level 2 and level 3 evacuation orders for residents northeast of Klamath Falls to “get ready” or “go now.”

The fire is threatening approximately 1,200 structures north of the towns of Beatty and Sprague River, and had expanded by four miles by late Sunday morning. Some structures have been lost and officials are evaluating damage.

High temperatures, dry conditions and gusty afternoon winds were expected to continue to drive the fire.

The fire was first spotted on Tuesday, and had grown to around 39,000 acres by Friday. It had nearly quadrupled in size by Sunday and remained 0% contained. The fire’s rapid expansion created dangers for firefighters and residents. Due to public safety concerns and immediate threat to life, the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office took the rare step of citing or arresting those who remained in or were trying to re-enter the Level 3 “get out” evacuation areas in the Bootleg Fire area.

Conditions on the fire lines were so extreme that firefighters were pulled back and moved to predetermined safety zones, said Al Lawson, a wildland and structure protection incident commander.

“The fire behavior we are seeing on the Bootleg Fire is among the most extreme you can find and firefighters are seeing conditions they have never seen before,” he said in a prepared statement. “We understand the frustration of the community as the fire continues to grow. We also need to ensure our firefighters are able to engage safely so that they can return home at the end of this assignment to their families.”
Type 1 firefighting teams, which are state and nationally certified, have been brought in to respond to the blaze.

Fire managers on Sunday afternoon are looking for opportunities for firefighters to return. Conditions on the southwest side of the fire has so far allowed firefighters to keep the fire from moving west towards Chiloquin, which is about 20 miles away.

The National Weather Service said dangerously unstable condition will promote extreme growth of the fire Sunday.

Authorities advised that people heed evacuation orders. Red Cross Cascades said in a tweet Sundaythat 38 people had stayed overnight at an emergency shelter for evacuees set up at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.

East of Roseburg, the 11,000-acre Jack Fire was considered 10% contained as of Sunday morning. Level 3 “go now” evacuation orders remained in place for all Forest Service campgrounds in the area, and for the Dry Creek community, as well as all residences on Illahee Road. Level 2 “get set” evacuation orders were issued on that road further from the fire, including Steamboat Inn and nearby residences.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

David Steves, Amelia Templeton
Holly Dillemuth was JPR's Klamath Basin regional correspondent. She was a staff reporter for the Herald and News in Klamath Falls for over 7 years covering a diverse range of topics, including city government, higher education and business.