Usually, weather conditions influence how wildfires behave. But southern Oregon’s massive Bootleg Fire is so powerful that it’s changing the weather.

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Fire officials have reported about the Bootleg Fire’s “aggressive surface spread with pyrocumulus development.” This cloud form results from the flames of a wildfire producing such extreme heat that it causes air to rise rapidly, cooling and condensing smoke particles. Pyrocumulus clouds are like self-contained thunderstorms carrying wind and lightning.

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Drought in Oregon and other western states has upped the potential for such massive fires. According to Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection for the Oregon Department of Forestry, 90% of the state is in exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions. “The future for us for the remainder of the season continues to look above normal dry and above normal temperatures,” said Grafe, as reported by CNN. “So this is not going to return to normal anytime soon, so we’re facing a long, difficult fire season.” He predicted Bootleg might burn another 50,000 to 100,000 acres before firefighters contain it.

The Bootleg Fire started on July 6. At press time, it’s burned an area bigger than Los Angeles, more than 606 square miles, and is 30% contained. At least 83 wildfires are burning in 13 states, with eight of them in Oregon. The fire is already one of the largest in Oregon history — and growing — with more than 2,000 firefighters trying to contain it. 

“There’s absolutely no question that climate change is playing out before our eyes,” Governor Kate Brown said at a news conference, as reported by CNN. “We saw the heat dome event a few weeks ago. We unfortunately lost a lot of Oregonians through that event. In February we saw devastating ice storms. Over a half a million people lost power last fall, as you are well aware. We had unprecedented wildfires.”


Lead image via Pixabay