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Bootleg Fire In Klamath County Now Oregon's Largest This Season

Ray Dandeneau

The fire burning in the Fremont-Winema National Forest doubled in size overnight Friday. It's become the largest wildfire currently burning in Oregon.

The Klamath County Board of Commissioners on Friday declared an emergency for the Bootleg fire, which is currently burning in the Fremont-Winema National Forest and threatening the nearby towns of Sprague River and Beatty.

As of Saturday, the Bootleg fire is the largest in the state, jumping from about 38,000 acres on Friday to 76,897 acres on Saturday with no containment. The fire is threatening approximately 1,200 structures.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. More than 300 firefighters are on the scene.

About 20 evacuees of the Bootleg fire - and their animals - found shelter at Klamath County Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls on Saturday afternoon, with Red Cross officials anticipating up to two dozen more, depending on fire conditions.

Animals large and small were being kept in the event center or in the stables at the Klamath County Fairgrounds while their owners waited to hear about their properties. From geese and turkeys to donkeys, horses, and dogs, the evacuation center is temporarily housing them in crates or stables.

Holly Dillemuth
JPR News
The evacuation shelter at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls is open to people -- and animals -- fleeing the rapidly-growing Bootleg Fire burning in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

Kit Schneider, supervisor for the Klamath Falls branch of the Red Cross Disaster Area, assisted children with snacks and tended to volunteers and evacuees.

Schneider is well-versed in responding to major disasters but especially fires. A resident of Central Point, she responded to victims of the Almeda Fire in Phoenix, Talent, and Ashland last fall as well as the Camp Fire in Paradise, California in 2018.

“We’re just here to try to help people know that we care and that we want to help them in any way that we can,” Schneider said. “I don’t think anybody can say that they understand it totally unless they have actually lived it.”

She said she anticipates more evacuees will arrive but said it will depend on which way the fire moves.

“We just have to wait – hour by hour, day by day – and see what happens,” Schneider said.

About 30 minutes away in Chiloquin, firefighters are camped out at the incident command station or in the area of Sprague River and Beatty fighting the blaze.

Holly Dillemuth
JPR News
Fire officials discuss the Bootleg Fire at a public briefing in Chiloquin on Friday evening.

On Friday evening, more than a dozen area residents met with officials to hear an update on the fire.

Brandon Fowler, emergency manager for Klamath County and public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, warned Friday night that the fire would likely continue to grow.

“The fire looks almost like an octopus,” Fowler told JPR News. “There’s so many off-shoots and fingers out in different directions. And it’s just because the behavior has been so unpredictable.”

Klamath County Sheriff’s Office issued a stern warning on Saturday afternoon that those in the level 3 evacuation zone could be cited or arrested. Unnecessary traffic east of Sprague River Road was hampering fire response and security as of Saturday afternoon, the release said..

Fowler said it’s really hard to know for certain how many individuals could be impacted or displaced by the fire. They may have other resources, such as family or friends who can house them temporarily.

“There’s a lot of folks that are camping out here in the summertime and things like that,” Fowler said. “Some folks have been living out there but have been camping in camp trailers.”

“We can’t always just count who shows up at a shelter,” Fowler added.