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Rain helps fire crews battle Bootleg

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Authorities were hopeful that cool temperatures, increased humidity and isolated showers will help them make more progress against the nation’s largest wildfire, the Bootleg Fire still burning in Klamath and Lake counties.

As of Tuesday afternoon, crews have it more than halfway contained after it scorched 640 square miles of remote land.

“The mild weather will have a short-term calming effect on the fire behavior. But due to the extremely dry conditions and fuels, as the week progresses and temperatures rise, aggressive fire behavior is likely to quickly rebound,” a situation report said Tuesday.

Temperatures are expected to cool Tuesday with an increase in humidity and likelihood of isolated showers continuing through Wednesday. The mild weather will have a short-term calming effect on the fire behavior.

But due to the extremely dry conditions and fuels, as the week progresses and temperatures rise, aggressive fire behavior is likely to quickly rebound.

New team arrives 

The coalition of agencies currently battling the Bootleg Fire has handed over the reins to a new incident management team, tasked with finishing off the firefighting as well as clean up and repair in its wake.

Crews also finished their most complete damage assessment to date. Stefan Myers, public information officer for the Oregon State Fire Marshal, said that as of Tuesday morning 161 residences were confirmed to have been destroyed by the Bootleg Fire. 153 of those were in Klamath County and eight were in Lake County.

Those figures are included in the most recent survey work done on the Bootleg Fire’s aftermath, but are expected to increase as crews enter new parts of the burn area.

The assessments are a challenge given the widespread devastation, Myers said. But the Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 2 is tasked with categorizing burned structures. Myers said that if crews can determine a structure or an recreational vehicle or movable trailer was inhabited, then it is categorized as a residence. However, an RV parked next to a home would be classified as a vehicle count, given that it was not used as a regular living quarters.

Using Geographical Information System methods and topographical maps, the incident management team is able to assess the area and make determinations as to the extent of the damage, Myers said.

On Tuesday morning, the Alaska Incident Management Team assumed leadership of the Bootleg Fire after shadowing the PNW Team 2, Oregon Department of Forestry Team 1, and the Oregon State Fire Marshal Red Team that had led the initial attack against the wildfire.

“They will be working to manage fire mitigation and suppression, and they have a long list of work in front of them,” Myers said.

Part of that work will include repairing dozer lines set up by fire crews, and making sure commercial properties are intact, Myers said.

Myers added the new incident management team will not be able to move into the repair phase until the fire has been put out. Currently at 53% containment, the Bootleg Fire is expected to continue burning for months.

The current incident management team is responsible for protecting monuments, historical landmarks, water systems and power lines, as well as homes and other infrastructure.

“Our work, which is primarily focused on protecting homes and critical infrastructure will end today,” Myers said on Tuesday.

Myers added that although the rain that arrived Tuesday is beneficial to firefighting activities, little to no rain fell on the eastern, and most active side of the fire.

“This will be of some benefit,” he added. "Any lower temperatures and precipitation is welcome, but it certainly won’t saturate fuels that have been dried out for months now.”

Myers added lightning is also a concern and will be monitored.

All evacuations lifted in Klamath County

The Klamath County Sheriff’s Office has lifted all current evacuation levels for all fire areas within Klamath County as of 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Klamath County Emergency Manager Brandon Fowler said in a release.

Residents should still be aware of dangers produced by fire conditions, the release said.

Those dangers include fire-damaged trees, damage to area roads, and increased traffic from the various crews working to mitigate hazards. The Sheriff’s Office continues to request that the public keep traffic to a minimum in the fire area to allow crews to make repairs as quickly as possible.

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