As Western wildfires rage, region to remain 'tragically dry' for at least a week. In Oregon, a blaze may burn until fall.

John Bacon
USA TODAY
  • More than 16,000 firefighters are combating at least 68 major fires in 12 states.
  • In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire remained the nation's largest and continued to rapidly grow.
  • In California, progress was reported on the state’s largest fire so far this year.

Thousands of firefighters battling scores of Western wildfires found little solace in the weather Wednesday, when afternoon wind gusts were forecast to fan blazes fueled by near-record heat and drought conditions.

More than 16,000 firefighters are combating at least 68 major fires in 12 states, the National Interagency Fire Center said. More than 1 million acres – almost 1,600 square miles – were ablaze. Long-range forecasts call for temperatures to increase over the weekend and into next week.

"The atmosphere about the West generally, and the Northwest specifically, will remain tragically dry," AccuWeather's senior meteorologist Matt Rinde said. "There are no indicators for at least the next week that the moisture in the Southwest will move northward or that moisture will build in from the west." 

In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire remained the nation's largest and continued to rapidly grow. Fire officials said it might take more than four months to fully contain the blaze. More than 300 square miles have burned – an area more than twice the size of Portland – and the National Guard was called in to help with road closures and traffic control.

"Poor humidity recovery at night is contributing to active fire spread," warned an incident report from the National Wildlife Coordinating Group. "Robust spread rates are being generated by drought-affected fuels. Expecting similar conditions for the next several days."

'Firenado' flares: Bootleg Fire, one of dozens raging in the West, creates 'firenado' near Oregon-California border

The fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon, burned through an area where the Klamath Tribes have lived for hundreds of years. Don Gentry, the chairman of the Klamath Tribal Council in Chiloquin, about 25 miles west of the Bootleg Fire, said many deer and other wildlife perished.

“There is definitely extensive damage to the forest where we have our treaty rights,” Gentry said. “We are definitely concerned. I know there are cultural resource areas and sensitive areas that ... the fire is going through.”

The Bootleg Fire is more than 331 square miles and is only 5% contained. It has destroyed about 20 homes and 2,000 more are under evacuation.

Kim Berge, left, holds her kitten for an examination by veterinarian Tawnia Shaw after evacuating to a Red Cross shelter near the Bootleg Fire in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

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In California, progress was reported on the state’s largest fire this year. The Beckwourth Complex, a combined pair of lighting-ignited blazes, was more than 70% contained after blackening more than 145 square miles near the Nevada state line. 

Beverly Houdyshell is one of several residents whose homes were destroyed by the blaze. Houdyshell, 79, said she’s too old and too poor to rebuild and isn’t sure what her future holds. She said she had insurance but had not heard from representatives.

“What chance do I have to build another house, to have another home?” Houdyshell said. “No chance at all.”

Another fire, the Dixie Fire, that broke out Tuesday afternoon has chewed through more than 1.8 square miles of brush and timber near the Feather River Canyon area of Butte County, and is 0% contained.

Officials said people in two neighboring towns should prepare to leave at a moment's notice. Flames raced along hillsides on the western edge of the Plumas National Forest about 10 miles from Paradise, which was devastated by a 2018 wildfire that killed 85 people.

In Idaho, the Snake River Complex Fire is still burning a week after it was sparked by lighting the morning of July 7. The grouping of wildfires has burned 150 square miles of mostly grass and timber, and its expansion threatens a few structures, according to an incident report

Contributing: Elinor Aspegren and Kate Mabus, USA TODAY; The Associated Press