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Bootleg Fire: Red Flag Warning Winds Add To Firefighters Woes; Renewed Threat To Vital California Power Lines

CHILOQUIN, Ore. (CBS SF/AP) -- As if the weary army of more than 2,100 firefighters battling the Bootleg Fire didn't need any more challenges from Mother Nature, the National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the burn zone for Saturday afternoon with winds expected to be gusting 30 mph and humidity levels plunging into the single digits.

The warning was set to begin at 2 p.m. and last at least until 8 p.m. There is also the threat of lightning in the area on Monday.

"We expect southwest to west winds of 15 to 20 mph with gusts to 30 mph and relative humidities in the single digits to low teens to affect the fire and the surrounding area," weather service forecasters said.

Red Flag Warning Explained for July 17th 2021

For more insight into Red Flag Warnings we were able to interview #BootlegFire Incident Meteorologist (IMET) Chuck Redman. A Red Flag Warning is in effect from 2pm to 8pm again today for strong winds and low relatively humidity. The strong gusty winds will develop over the fire area leading to yet another day with extreme fire behavior. Wind speeds are expected to exceed 30mph and relative humidities will drop down to 10-15 percent. Fire behavior is dictated by three elements: fuels, weather and topography. The topography remains the same and the fuels are critically dry. The variable that constantly changes is the weather. A Red Flag calls attention to alert our firefighters of the potential for extreme fire behavior. This hot and dry weather pattern will persist through the weekend. A threat of thunderstorms is forecasted for Monday for the area. #FireYear2021

Posted by Bootleg Fire on Saturday, July 17, 2021

"In addition to strong winds and low humidities, very unstable and dry conditions are possible over the Bootleg Fire on Sunday when the Haines Index (used to measure temperature and dew point values) close to maxing out, indicating favorable conditions for plume-dominated fire," the weather service continued. "Considering we`ve observed plume-dominated behavior the past several days on the Bootleg wildfire, weather conditions will certainly support that that kind of extreme behavior Sunday."

At a morning briefing Saturday, Operations Section Chief Kyle Cannon said the Bootleg and Logg Fires were edging closer to merging in the northeast corner of the blaze.

"We did see some growth of both the Logg Fire and the main fire last night and those fires are beginning to come together," he said.

Operations Update July 17th Zone 2 Bootleg Fire with PNW2 Kyle Cannon

Operations update for the #BootlegFire by Zone 2 Operations Chief Kyle Cannon. Retardant ships worked along the areas of highest concern yesterday protecting homes and buildings. #FireYear2021 #AirAttack If you prefer to watch on YouTube, click here and subscribe for additional fireline videos and aerial footage:

Posted by Bootleg Fire on Saturday, July 17, 2021

Unfortunately, both fires are advancing toward Path 66 -- a vital electrical line corridor linking the California grid with power generators in the Northwest. The corridor is located right in the middle of where the blazes would merge.

Firefighters have been struggling with the erratic behavior of the fire since it exploded to life last week.

Crews had to flee the fire lines late Thursday after a dangerous "fire cloud" started to collapse, threatening them with strong downdrafts and flying embers. 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 blaze has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings that include homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border, fire spokeswoman Holly 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.

The Bootleg Fire is now at 281,208 acres — larger than the area of New York City — and only 22 percent contained.

"We're likely going to continue to see fire growth over miles and miles of active fire line," Krake said. "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."

The blaze was most active on its northeastern flank, pushed by winds from the south toward the rural communities of Summer Lake and Spring Lake. Paisley, to the east of the fire, was also at risk. All the towns are in Lake County, a remote area of lakes and wildlife refuges with a total population of about 8,000.

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