Western wildfires grow, but better weather helps crews

BLY, OREGON (AP) — Lower winds and better weather helped crews using bulldozers and helicopters battling the nation’s largest wildfire in southern Oregon, but gusty winds pushed a Northern California wildfire into Nevada on Thursday, prompting evacuations as blazes burn across the West.

Oregon’s Bootleg Fire grew to 624 square miles — over half the size of Rhode Island. However, authorities said higher humidity on Wednesday, and overnight and better conditions allowed crews to improve fire lines.

The fire also was approaching an area burned by a previous fire on its active southeastern flank, raising hopes that a lack of fuel could reduce its spread, and the forecast was for favourable firefighting weather again on Thursday.

“Fire crews and support personnel have made significant progress in containing this fire in the last few days,” Incident Commander Trainee of Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 2 Joe Prummer said in a statement. “However, we still have a long road ahead of us to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities”.

The Oregon fire, which was sparked by lightning, has ravaged the sparsely populated southern part of the state and had been expanding by up to four miles a day, pushed by strong winds and critically dry weather.

The blaze, which is being fought by more than 2,200 people, is now more than one-third contained.

On Thursday, authorities said at least nine people working the fire had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Oregon Department of Forestry said people who test positive are quarantined away from the main fire camp. Also, people who report symptoms and anyone who worked closely with them are tested and isolated until results are returned.

Spot fires smoulder near trees damaged by the Bootleg Fire in Bly, Oregon. PHOTO: AP