Forecaster says ‘it’s kind of an extreme, dangerous situation’
A wildfire that has been burning through the state of Oregon for two weeks has grown so large that officials say it can form its own weather, setting-back the work of first responders.
The Bootleg Fire has scorched around 350,000 acres, or 530 square miles, of forest and grasslands, with thousands of firefighters battling through extreme forms of weather generated by the blaze.
That has included “fire clouds” of smoke and ash that are able to form “fire whirls” and tornadoes, as well as fierce winds and lightening.
“The fire is so large and generating so much energy and extreme heat that it’s changing the weather,” a spokesman for the Oregon forestry department told The New York Times this week.
“Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”
As of Monday, more than 2,000 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. More than 75 buildings and structures are known to have burned.
The Bootleg fire is among the biggest ever recorded in Oregon, and follows an unusually active start to the annual fire season – which in 2021 has been worsened by high temperatures and drought across the west.
If governments around the world – and the US – fail to stop the world’s average temperature rising further, following a rise of about 1.2C since the industrial era began, such fires will worsen.
“It’s kind of an extreme, dangerous situation,” Chuck Redman, a forecaster from the US National Weather Service (NWS), told The Times of the situation in in Oregon. “It’s not a good thing”.
Mr Redman, saying it can’t “get any worse”, explained that the fire’s size and intensity was enough to force the wind to go around it, which in turn could create swirling clouds of heat and smoke — or “fire tornadoes”.
Although the NWS has so reported any so far, Mr Redman has witnessed the collapse of the collapse of a “fire cloud”, which generated high winds that spread its ash and embers further.
There have also been lightening strikes and reports of “fire whirls”, which are smaller than fully sized tornadoes.
With no relief in the weather forecast, fire incident commander Joe Hessel said in a statement on Monday that the blaze was “a real challenge, and we are looking at a sustained battle for the foreseeable future”.
Firefighters are reportedly working day and night.