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Drought And Extreme Heat Conditions Challenge Efforts To Fight Bootleg Fire

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A wildfire larger than the city of Los Angeles and growing - that's what the state of Oregon faces with the Bootleg Fire. It's consumed more than 600 square miles in rural south central Oregon. From Jefferson Public Radio, Erik Neumann reports that drought conditions and extreme heat continue to create challenging conditions for fire crews.

ERIK NEUMANN, BYLINE: The Bootleg Fire is now the fourth-largest fire on record in Oregon since 1900 and has grown by miles per day. On Tuesday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown said fires like this and the eight other large fires currently burning across the state are climate change playing out before our eyes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATE BROWN: The conditions we're seeing are substantially different than we saw even 10 years ago. So these fires are substantially hotter. They're substantially faster. They're simply much more fierce than we have seen in earlier years.

NEUMANN: Bone-dry grasses and trees are burning quickly and intensely. Embers have jumped containment lines and forced fire crews battling the Bootleg Fire to pull back multiple times in recent weeks. Oregon fire officials say 90% of the state is in a drought, and that's making the land more prone to fire. Derek Williams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service who is focused on the Bootleg Fire, says there's another reason, too.

DEREK WILLIAMS: We had that late June extreme heat wave - just blew out the record books on that heat wave. And that really accelerated the drying of the fuels to much earlier than what is normal.

NEUMANN: Williams says a sign of how extreme this fire is are the puffy, white clouds its smoke is forming. They're called pyrocumulous, and meteorologists spotted a pyrocumulonimbus cloud. Both can be risky for firefighters, with the latter capable of causing lightning strikes that spark new fires. With these types of conditions coming in July, so early in the summer, officials warn this will likely be a long fire season, just a year after severe wildfires struck Oregon in 2020. Mariana Ruiz-Temple is the Oregon state fire marshal.

MARIANA RUIZ-TEMPLE: I would categorize this fire season thus far as historic in terms of the amount of resources we've deployed.

NEUMANN: She says 2021 marks the earliest that fire resources have been mobilized to date. Williams, the meteorologist, says they're starting to see signs of monsoon moisture that could move in sometime next week and perhaps provide a bit of relief.

For NPR News, I'm Erik Neumann in southern Oregon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLEEP DEALER'S "THE WAY HOME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.

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