Rural Oregon Awaits Bootleg Fire Evacuations: ‘Everybody Is Freaking Out.’

A family prepared to evacuate as the Bootleg Fire burned closer to their home and restaurant. In another town, T-shirts memorialized the nation’s largest blaze.


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In rural Oregon, with fire on the horizon, ‘Everybody is freaking out.’

Smoke filled the air as the Bootleg Fire approached rural properties near Paisley, Ore., on Tuesday.Credit…David Ryder/Reuters

By Sergio Olmos and Christine Hauser

July 21, 2021, 2:07 p.m. ET

CHILOQUIN, Ore. — As firefighting crews stretched across central Oregon on Wednesday, battling to contain the nation’s largest wildfire, Tawan Murray sat in the parking lot of Chiloquin High School selling concert-style “Bootleg Wildfire 2021” T-shirts.

Mr. Murray has been moving from town to town following the fire, a kind of merchant of the apocalypse. “Business is slow but steady — so many firefighters are rotating in,” he said.

The Bootleg Fire has burned nearly 400,000 acres across southern Oregon since July 6, when it was sparked by lightning, officials said on Wednesday. It is already the fourth-largest wildfire in the state since 1900, and was burning so hot this week that it essentially generated its own weather and spread unhealthy smoke as far as New York City.

At least 2,000 people in rural Oregon have been ordered to evacuate or to prepare to, as the fire has destroyed 67 homes and another 100 structures, according to the state’s Department of Forestry. Although large and growing, the blaze continued to burn mostly on remote forest land.

About 70 miles northeast of Chiloquin, on the outskirts of Silver Lake, the windows of the Cowboy Dinner Tree restaurant frame miles of desert sagebrush and the forest pines beyond. The establishment takes its name from a juniper tree that has stood nearby for decades; local history has it that cattle drivers stopped in its shade to eat at a chuck wagon along the outback trail.

For a week now, the owners, Jamie and Angel Roscoe, and their five children have been bracing for the order to evacuate their business and nearby home, on 80 acres about a mile from the Fremont National Forest. Residents in some parts of Lake County were told to evacuate immediately, but the Roscoe family has been under an order of “Level 2 readiness,” which means get packed and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

They made preparations to move saddle horses and steers to neighboring ranches. Since then, they have waited and watched. On Wednesday, Mr. Roscoe, 43, carefully took stock of the speed and direction of the wind, judging the threat of the Bootleg Fire, which he said was about 14.5 miles away “as the crow flies.”

The children have prepared bags with their favorite clothes, trinkets and pocketknives. Important papers will stay behind in a fireproof safe. Mr. Roscoe has no idea what his wife has stowed for him. “I don’t care,” he said on Wednesday. “Everything is replaceable, except for my family.”

The Roscoes planned to keep their restaurant open as long as the winds were in their favor. The fire, Mr. Roscoe said, was “playing a crazy game of leapfrog. Everybody is freaking out because of this fire. It is extremely aggressive.”

The thick smoke was everywhere, he said, even inside. “It smells like a campfire inside of my pickup.”

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