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What Comes Next For The Bootleg Fire As It Hits 100% Containment?

José M. Martínez, Puerto Rico Fire Crew
Bootleg Fire Information
Crew members of the Puerto Rico Fire Crew mop up on the Bootleg Fire.

On Aug. 16, the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon reached 100% containment. JPR’s Erik Neumann spoke with Lisa Ellsworth, an assistant professor at Oregon State University who studies fire ecology about what comes next.

Erik Neumann: The Bootleg Fire is nearing 100% containment. What does containment mean?

Lisa Ellsworth: Containment means that the fire suppression resources have got a line around the fire that's going to hold. Containment does not mean that the fire is out. It just means it's not going anywhere anymore. So, there will still be, for weeks or even months, there will be flames and lots of smoke coming out of this fire.

EN: When would you expect a fire like this to be completely out?

LE: It'll be mostly out after we've gotten several really good rains. People should not be alarmed if they still see smoke well into the winter on a warmer day. There may even be smoke coming out of it next year when things start to get warm again.

EN: There are lots of issues after wildfires -- potential landslides, erosion, hazard tree removal, we're about to have another heat wave coming this week. How would you describe the next phase of this incident in the short term?

LE: As soon as the fire is contained, they'll have what's called a BAER Team come in. That stands for Burned Area Emergency Response. That's a team of managers and scientists who are going to assess what’s needed to stabilize this area. Things like erosion from water that'll be on steep slopes. They'll be looking for hazard trees that need to come out so that they don't do damage to people or to properties. They'll make this pretty quick assessment and that's on a timeline of weeks to months. On a scale of months to years, there will be more of the rehabilitation where they start to assess: are there places that ecologically would benefit from management? Or places where it's in production timber or in agricultural where they’ll start thinking about replanting or reseeding. But this next few weeks will be about mitigating hazards.

EN: This was a very rural area. Are there going to be ongoing risks to communities?

LE: With the containment line nearly all the way around this fire, they're in pretty good hands. We can't say with 100% certainty that there is no risk. There's still the few miles of active flaming front moving through there and we're going into several days of pretty extreme fire weather but they wouldn't remove the evacuation order if they believed that there was still a risk to communities.

EN: The fire was over 400,000 acres, so it was a very large fire. Does the size of it limit restoration efforts in any way?

LE: The size of it may make it feel a little bit daunting, in that there's a lot of area to look at, but typically only a small percentage of any fire perimeter requires that stabilization. Within any fire perimeter, there is varying severity. It's not 413,000 acres of continuous black. There will be some patch work in there.

This fire end and several of the big ones that we're seeing this year really make clear the evidence of human-caused climate change in our forests. And I expect that we'll be seeing fires like this more years than not in the future. Every year we talk about the fire being the anomaly, being unprecedented and that's really just not the case anymore. We are seeing fires like this every year and we need to be prepared for a future with more fires. So, the preventative measures that we can take are incredibly important.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.