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PORTLAND: A destructive Oregon wildfire that ranks as the largest among dozens raging across the drought-parched western US in recent weeks was ignited by lightning but smouldered for days before it was detected, forest officials said on Wednesday.

The origin of the so-called Bootleg fire, which was first reported on 6 July in the Fremont-Winema National Forest some 250 miles south of Portland, came to light as ground crews made increasing headway in curtailing the blaze.

Strike teams were taking advantage of calmer winds, cooler temperatures and slightly higher humidity over the past two days to extend and bolster containment lines around the fire’s periphery, incident commanders reported in their latest summary.

Growth stunted

Although the blaze continued to expand, its growth was stunted as flames advanced into an old fire-scarred area with less vegetation available to burn, officials said.

As of Wednesday, the Bootleg had charred 395,463 acres of tinder-dry brush and timber – an area well over half as big as Rhode Island. At that size, the fire was just a few hundred acres away from becoming Oregon’s third-largest on record since 1900.

It also has blackened far more acreage than any one of about 80 major active wildfires currently reported in 13 Western states this week.

Those fires, along with the Bootleg, have collectively scorched more than 1.3 million acres in an unusually heavy start to the western fire season that experts say is symptomatic of climate change.

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