The largest wildfire burning in the United States right now, the Bootleg Fire in southeastern Oregon, is spreading several miles a day and isn’t expected to be fully contained unless a significant weather event lends a helping hand.
The Bootleg Fire is now 377 square miles — larger than the area of New York City — and mostly uncontained. An initial review Friday showed the fire destroyed 67 homes and 117 outbuildings overnight in one county.
Strong winds are pushing the fire to grow, as well as extremely dry conditions. It's burning an area north of the California border that has been gripped by extreme drought, like most of the American West.
"For a fire of this scale and magnitude it is expected to take what is referred to as a "season ending weather event" to completely contain the fire," Katy O’Hara, the public information officer for the Bootleg Fire efforts, told FOX Television Stations Saturday.
"This is often a large storm with significant wetting rains or snow. We will need mother nature's help to fully control and contain the Bootleg Fire," she continued.
Containment is considered the point when a control line has been completed around the fire and can reasonably be expected to stop the fire’s spread, she said. Right now the fire is very active and is spreading upwards of four to five miles each day.
Extremely dry conditions and heatwaves tied to climate change have swept the region.
A red flag weather warning, signifying strong winds and hot, dry conditions, remained in effect in the area through Saturday evening.
The blaze has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings that include homes and smaller structures.
On Wednesday, the Bootleg Fire 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.
The Bootleg Fire is one of at least a dozen major fires burning in Washington state, Oregon and California as a siege of wildfires takes hold across the area.
Seventy active large fires and complexes of multiple fires have burned nearly 1,659 square miles in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center said.
In the Pacific Northwest, firefighters say they are facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall than early July.
Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.