PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Oregon’s dry conditions are matching those that we wouldn’t usually see until the height of fire season, according to fire officials.
They say this is an unprecedented year for drought and fire conditions. Dozens of fires are burning across the western United States, the largest of them in southern Oregon.
The Bootleg Fire near Klamath Falls has grown to more than 212,000 acres. Thousands of homes are threatened by the flames and some families are learning that they have lost everything.
Smaller fires are also popping up around the state, including the Game Hog Creek Fire burning in the Tillamook State Forest, northwest of Forest Grove.
“It’s very steep rocky ground, it’s kind of a south, southwest face with a rocky cliff,” said Mike Cafferata, a district forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
He said that terrain is making it difficult to get firefighters on the ground the fight the fire. He says the flames heated up and started spreading faster in the early morning hours of Wednesday. Thankfully, no homes or lives are in danger right now.
“We’ve got people camping down at Elk Creek campground still and we have houses there not too far away along Lee’s Camp area along Highway 6. We are not calling for evacuations. We think those places are safe,” Cafferata said.
The fires in Oregon are being fueled by unprecedented dry conditions.
“Usually we don’t see this until the very worst time of the fire year and our fuels are extremely dry,” said Cafferata.
The heat and dry weather are even causing embers that survived the winter from September’s wildfires to smoke again.
“For the most part those are probably out in an area that burned pretty hard and there’s probably not a lot of immediate spread risk,” said Cafferata.
David Blunck, an associate professor in Oregon State University’s College of Engineering said that fires need heat to grow, and moisture helps to take some of that heat.
“If there’s a lot of humidity in the air, all that humidity needs to be heated up and essentially absorbs some of that energy and drops the temperature and it’s also true of the moisture that’s inside the fuel,” he said.
However, that moisture is just not present this year. Officials are warning that burn bans and warnings from fire officials will be more important than ever this summer.
“Both for our safety and the safety of the forest and first responders, we need to follow the guidance we’re given for sure,” said Blunck.
ODF says that fires in Oregon have gotten worse over the last ten years. They say this year is already standing out as having the potential to the worst fire season yet.