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Erratic Oregon wildfire destroys dozens of homes, expands

PORTLAND, Ore. — Firefighters scrambled Friday to control a raging inferno in southeastern Oregon that’s spreading miles a day in windy conditions, one of the numerous wildfires across the U.S. West that are straining resources. Crews had to flee the fire lines late Thursday after a dangerous “fire cloud” started to collapse, threatening them with strong downdrafts and flying embers. An initial review Friday showed the Bootleg Fire destroyed 67 homes and 117 outbuildings overnight in one county. Authorities were still counting the losses in a second county where the flames are surging up to 4 miles (6 kilometers) a day.

Fire spokeswoman Holly Krake said that the blaze has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings that include homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border. She said that active flames are surging along 200 miles (322 kilometers) of the fire’s perimeter, and it’s expected to merge with a more minor but equally explosive fire by nightfall. The Bootleg Fire is now 377 square miles (976 square kilometers) — more significant than the area of New York City — and primarily uncontained.

“We’re likely going to continue to see fire growth over miles and miles of active fire line,” Krake said. “We are continuing to add thousands of acres a day, and it has the potential each day, looking forward into the weekend, to continue those 3- to 4-mile runs. For a week, the inferno has stymied firefighters with erratic winds and dangerous fire behavior, including ominous fire clouds that form from superheated air rising to a height of up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) above the blaze. “We’re expecting those same exact conditions to continue and worsen into the weekend,” Krake said of the fire-induced clouds.

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