FILE — Oregon Bootleg Fire by night

In this photo provided by the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshall, flames and smoke rise from the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. 

(The Center Square) – Oregon's Bootleg Fire is growing at a pace firefighters say is pushing personnel to the limit as the inferno adds thousands more acreage per hour.

It was around 8 a.m. Monday the nation's largest active wildfire was burning some 303,791 acres, according to INCIWEB reporting system. The Bootleg Fire grew by 1 p.m. Monday to 343,755 acres or some 537 square miles – greater than the size of Phoenix. Wednesday marks the two-week anniversary of the day it was first reported in Klamath County. Firefighters worry what the next two weeks will mean.

Sunday marked the ninth consecutive day firefighters retreated and regrouped at the scene as flames danced across retardant lines. The Bootleg Fire is growing in all directions, local authorities reported, and added 2,500 acres in the Elder Creek area over the weekend. INCIWEB lists the Bootleg Fire as 25% contained, but people on the ground said the fire keeps moving the goal post.

"We are running firefighting operations through the day and all through the night," Incident Commander Joe Hessel said. "This fire is a real challenge, and we are looking at sustained battle for the foreseeable future."

The Bootleg Fire continued to inch toward a valuable Californian carbon forest near Klamath Falls. INCIWEB reported Monday it was 28 miles away from the region, down from 40 miles Wednesday. It now is the fourth-largest wildfire in Oregon's 21st-century history. 

Smoke from the Bootleg Fire delayed at least 329 flights Monday around the western U.S. More concerning for fire officials is the potential for all that heat and smoke to create so-called "fire storms" or thunderheads that can spark new fires. The National Weather Service spotted one forming Wednesday via what it called "terrifying" satellite imagery.

"Please send positive thoughts and well wishes to the firefighters. ... It's a tough time for them right now," the weather service's account tweeted.

High winds, low humidity and tinderbox conditions have kept southern Oregon in continuous drought this year. Forecasts have the region at 90 degrees for the next two weeks, and rainfall is not in the cards. Firefighting officials previously stated it will take major rain or snow to put the Bootleg Fire out.

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center reported Monday there were 16 major wildfires burning 491,037 acres between Oregon and Washington. Not a single one was contained as of Monday afternoon.

Pacific Northwest wildfires have drawn at least 6,651 firefighters. The Bootleg Fire had 2,053 firefighters on the ground. 

Oregonians can look up active wildfire evacuation orders for their areas here.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.