A rapidly growing wildfire south of Lake Tahoe forced evacuations of a mountain town and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada, leaving thousands of riders and spectators stranded Saturday.
The Tamarack Fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 4, exploded overnight to about 10 square miles (26 square kilometers) and was burning near the small town of Markleeville, close to the California-Nevada state line. It has destroyed at least 3 structures, authorities said. A notice posted on the 103-mile (165-kilometer) Death Ride’s website said several communities in the area had been evacuated and ordered all riders to also evacuate immediately.
Meanwhile, the largest wildfire in the U.S.—burning in southern Oregon—grew significantly overnight as dry and windy conditions took hold in the area, but containment of the inferno more than tripled as firefighters began to gain more control, authorities said Saturday.
The Bootleg Fire grew to 427 square miles (1,105 square kilometers) and was just one of numerous fires burning across the drought-stricken U.S. West, as new fires popped up or grew rapidly in Oregon and California. There were 70 active large fires and complexes of multiple fires that have burned nearly 1,659 square miles (4,297 square kilometers) in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center said.
A fire in the mountains of northeast Oregon was also growing rapidly and was 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) in size on Saturday. The Elbow Creek fire started Thursday and has prompted evacuations in several small, rural communities around the Grande Ronde River about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Walla Walla, Washington.
In southern Oregon, fire crews have dealt with dangerous and extreme fire conditions, including massive “fire clouds” that rise up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) above the blaze. Earlier in the week, firefighters had to retreat after one of these clouds started to collapse, threatening them with strong downdrafts and flying embers.
The Bootleg Fire has destroyed at least 67 homes and 117 outbuildings and flames are surging up to 4 miles (6 kilometers) a day.
The conflagration has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and is threatening 5,000 buildings, including homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border. The main Oregon blaze was 22% contained.
A Red Flag weather warning was issued for the area through Saturday night.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have swept the region, making wildfires harder to fight. 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.
Firefighters said in July they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall.
California fire cancels bike ride, prompts evacuations (2021, July 17)
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