Wildfire in Oregon forces 2,000 to evacuate as US West blazes

Bootleg Fire is largest of 71 major wildfires in an unusually busy start to the annual western US fire season.

Firefighters backed by helicopters scrambled on Friday to suppress a wind-driven inferno that is blazing across southern Oregon as dozens of fires erupting across the drought-stricken western United States strained resources.

The Bootleg wildfire forced 2,000 people to evacuate and destroyed 21 homes and 54 other structures as it exploded across 91,860 hectares (227,000 acres) of dry timber and brush through a national forest preserve about 400km (250 miles) south of Portland, Oregon’s largest city.

Bootleg, burning since July 6, has torched an area larger than New York City and is the largest wildfire burning in the US.

Fire strike teams have carved containment lines around 7 percent of the fire’s perimeter but Incident Commander Joe Hessel said the blaze would continue to expand as it threatened to merge with another blaze, the Log Fire amid dry and blustery conditions.

No serious injuries have been linked to the Bootleg Fire since it started on July 6 but nearly 2,000 homes are threatened, officials said.

“The extremely dry vegetation and weather are not in our favour,” Hessel said on Twitter.

More than 1,700 firefighters and a dozen helicopters were assigned to the Bootleg Fire, with demand for personnel and equipment across the Pacific Northwest beginning to strain available resources, said Jim Gersbach, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Reuters news service reported.

“It’s uncommon for us to reach this level of demand on firefighting resources this early” in the wildfire season, he said.

Climate change has made the American West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and more frequent and destructive wildfires now come every summer. Hot and dry weather from Canada to Mexico is draining reservoirs, threatening crops and livestock and portending a potential future water crisis.

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