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The Bootleg Fire in Oregon is so large, it’s creating its own weather

The Bootleg Fire grew to nearly 364,113 acres Monday and is 30% contained, Marcus Kauffman, public information officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry, told CNN.

The fire has scorched 537 square miles — an area larger than Los Angeles and about half the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Much of the west remains under the threat of fire conditions Tuesday, with nearly 3.5 million people under red flag warnings, according to a tweet from the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center (NWSWPC). A red flag warning means “critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly,” the NWSWPC said.

Excessive heat warnings will continue for more than 337,000 and nearly 650,000 more are under a heat advisory.

Temperatures in the region will remain up to 10 degrees above normal over the next 48 hours, CNN Meteorologist Michael Guy said. There’s also a chance of dry storms, which lack the precipitation that is desperately needed to help calm the flames.

A satellite image posted by the weather service shows smoke from the fires in western Canada and the Intermountain West billowing over the region.

In Oregon, fire officials noted the Bootleg Fire is showing “aggressive surface spread with pyrocumulus development.”

Pyrocumulus clouds form when the extreme heat from the flames of a wildfire force the air to rapidly rise, condensing and cooling any moisture on smoke particles produced by the fire. These clouds essentially become their own thunderstorms and can contain lightning and strong winds.

The fire is “so large and generating so much energy and extreme heat that it’s changing the weather,” Kauffman explained. “Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”

The prolonged drought is also fueling the fire conditions and Kauffman anticipates the massive blaze will continue to grow.

“The fire is burning is dense fuels that are extremely dry from a prolonged drought. Up until today, the weather has been consistently hot, dry with near single digit humidity,” Kauffman added.

Third largest fire in state history

The Bootleg Fire began on July 6 in the Fremont-Winema National Forrest near the California border and has spared little in its path. More than 2,000 people are currently evacuated from their homes, according to Fire Public Information Officer Sarah Gracey.
80 large fires have consumed more than 1 million acres across western parts of the US

Sixty-seven homes have been destroyed, along with 117 minor structures, such as sheds or detached garages, Gracey said.

The fire has averaged a rate of spread nearly 1,100 acres per hour for more than 13 consecutive days — a rate that would burn through New York’s Central Park in only 45 minutes.

According to Kauffman, the Oregon forestry official, the Bootleg Fire is the third largest wildfire in the state’s history,

The Long Draw Fire in 2012 burned 557,028 acres and is the largest wildfire in the state’s history since 1900, Kauffman said.

In 2002, the Biscuit Fire became the state’s second largest fire, burning nearly 500,000 acres.

There appears to be little hope for progress against the flames on the horizon as wind gusts up to 25 mph are expected over the next couple of days, Guy said.

CNN’s Jenn Selva and Brandon Miller contributed to this report.

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