Firefighters are scrambling to control a raging blaze in south-eastern Oregon which is spreading miles a day in windy conditions, one of numerous fires across the US West that are straining resources.
Authorities ordered a new round of evacuations on Thursday amid worries that the Bootleg Fire, which has already destroyed 21 homes, could merge with another blaze that also grew explosively amid dry and blustery conditions.
The Bootleg Fire, the largest wildfire currently burning in the US, had torched more than 377 square miles by Friday morning and was just 7% contained.
It has stymied firefighters for nearly a week with erratic winds and extremely dangerous behaviour. Early on, the fire doubled in size almost daily and strong winds from the south on Thursday afternoon again pushed the flames rapidly to the north and east.
The fire has the potential to move four miles or more in an afternoon and there was concern it could merge with the smaller but still explosive Log Fire, said Rob Allen, incident commander for the blaze.
That blaze started on Monday as three smaller fires but exploded to nearly 5,000 acres in 24 hours and was still growing, fanned by the same winds, Mr Allen said.
Firefighters were all pulled back to safe areas late on Thursday due to intense fire behaviour and were scouting ahead of the main blaze for areas where they could make a stand by carving out fire lines to stop the inferno’s advance, he said.
Crews are watching the fire, nearby campgrounds “and any place out in front of us to make sure the public’s out of the way”, Mr Allen said, adding that evacuation orders are still being assessed.
The Bootleg Fire is affecting an area north of the Oregon-California border that has been gripped by extreme drought.
On Thursday, authorities decided to expand previous evacuation orders near Summer Lake and Paisley in Lake County, a remote area of lakes and wildlife refuges just north of the California border with a total population of about 8,000.
It has periodically generated enormous smoke columns that could be seen for miles — a sign that the blaze is so intense it is creating its own weather, with erratic winds and the potential for fire-generated lightning.
Meanwhile, a fire near the northern California town of Paradise, which burned in a horrific 2018 wildfire, caused jitters among homeowners who are just starting to return to normal after surviving the deadliest blaze in US history.
The Dixie Fire had spread over nearly eight square miles by Thursday night in the Feather River Canyon area north east of Paradise.
Evacuation of a wilderness recreation area was ordered and officials kept in place a warning for residents of the tiny communities of Pulga and east Concow to be ready to leave.
The Dixie Fire is part of a siege of conflagrations across the West. There were 71 active large fires and complexes of multiple fires that have burned nearly 1,553 square miles in the US, mostly in Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre.