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Unstable weather will continue to fuel wildfire that's bigger than NYC

Heatwaves fuel wildfires in the West
Heatwaves fuel wildfires in the West 02:13

Dry, unstable and windy conditions will keep fueling the Bootleg Fire, a massive wildfire in southern Oregon, forecasters said, as the largely uncontained blaze grows by miles each day. 

An initial review Friday showed the Bootleg Fire destroyed 67 homes and 117 outbuildings overnight in one county. Authorities were still counting the losses in a second county where the flames are surging up to 4 miles a day.

The Bootleg Fire is now 377 square miles — larger than the area of New York City — and mostly uncontained.

"We're likely going to continue to see fire growth over miles and miles of active fire line," said fire spokeswoman Holly Krake. "We are continuing to add thousands of acres a day, and it has the potential each day, looking forward into the weekend, to continue those 3- to 4-mile runs."

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A pyrocumulus cloud from the Bootleg Fire drifts into the air near Bly, Oregon on July 16, 2021. PAYTON BRUNI/AFP via Getty Images

The conflagration has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings, including homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border, Krake said. Active flames are surging along 200 miles of the fire's perimeter, she said, and it's expected to merge with a smaller, but equally explosive fire by nightfall.  

A Red Flag weather warning was issued for the area through Saturday night.

The inferno has stymied firefighters for a week with erratic winds and extremely dangerous fire behavior, including ominous fire clouds that form from superheated air rising to a height of up to 6 miles above the blaze.

"We're expecting those same exact conditions to continue and worsen into the weekend," Krake said of the fire-induced clouds.

The fire is burning an area north of the California border that has been gripped by extreme drought, like most of the American West.

Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have swept the region, making wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

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The Bootleg Fire night crew listens to a briefing at their operating base in Bly, Oregon on July 15, 2021.  PAYTON BRUNI/AFP via Getty Images

The Bootleg Fire is one of at least a dozen major fires burning in Washington state, Oregon and California as a siege of wildfires takes hold across the drought-stricken West. There were 70 active large fires and complexes of multiple fires that have burned nearly 1,659 square miles (4,297 square kilometers) in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center said.

In the Pacific Northwest, firefighters said in early July they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall.

In California, the Tamarack Fire in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest grew to roughly 10 square miles (25 square kilometers) as of Saturday morning, prompting evacuations in the Markleeville area in Alpine County. The blaze prompted the cancelation of Saturday's "Death Ride," a 103-mile (165-kilometer) bicycle ride in the so-called California Alps over three Sierra Nevada mountain passes.

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