Charred remnants of family heirlooms and appliances littered the front lawn of Tim and Dee McCarley's destroyed home. The McCarleys and Dee’s son, David Martin, climbed into two pickup trucks Tuesday evening and began cruising around their property near Bly, Ore.
One of the trucks was outfitted with a generator, water tank and a hose. Hunting for hot spots has become the family’s daily ritual. They come armed with their own equipment.
“This is what we do,” said Tim McCarley, as he sprayed down the steaming pile of dirt and embers. “We've put out 30 or 40 already.”
The family doesn’t feel like they have a choice. The historically large Bootleg Fire swept through their property, forcing them to flee the fast-moving flames almost two weeks ago.
“If we didn't get out when we did, we all would have been dead,” Martin said.
But the fire has since moved on from their property. Last week, winds pushed the flames northeast, toward less populated areas. Firefighters, overwhelmed by the fire’s size, were forced to go with it. That reality left families like the McCarleys on their own to put out hot spots and sift through the rubble.
“There’s another lost vehicle there,” Tim McCarley said, pointing around his property. “Two lost vehicles back there.”
“I had a 35-year-old oak table set. I know it's stuff, but it was my stuff. You know?” Dee McCarley said, as her eyes teared up. “Stuff that I valued. Nobody else.”
Their belongings, stored in trailers outside their home, were all destroyed. So was Martin’s house, which sat elsewhere on the property. But the McCarley’s dream home, which they were still building when the fire hit, was untouched.
“I looked over there and went 'Oh ok, that's all gone'. Then I looked at the house and just dropped to my knees and just went ‘Thank the Lord, we have a home,’” Dee McCarley said.
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'The biggest fire I've ever been on':
The Bootleg Fire grew again Tuesday night into Wednesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was 32% contained and had burned 394,407 acres, putting it in fourth place for the largest wildfires to ever burn in Oregon. It's quickly closing in on third.
At a sprawling fire camp in the town of Bly, hundreds of tents stretched for hundreds of yards. Late last week, coordinators said roughly 1,300 firefighters from more than a dozen states were on the ground fighting the fire. By Wednesday, that number had jumped to 2,250.
Seasoned wildland crews said they're working 16 hours a day. Years’ worth of drought continues to fuel the fire, and it has become so strong, it generates its own weather, including lightning, according to Marcus Kauffman, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Incident Management Team 1.
“This is the biggest fire I've ever been on. It feels a little historic,” said Nathan Kahla, lead squad boss for Grayback Forestry. “They're estimating [it moves] a mile an hour through heavy timber, which is significant.”
The fire, which firefighters say was started by lightning in early July, has burned close to 70 homes and 100 outbuildings. This week, the effects of it stretched from coast to coast. Wednesday morning, people in New York and Washington, D.C. woke up to smoke wafting in from the Bootleg Fire and others on the West Coast.
"It doesn't matter if it's a hundred-acre fire or a 3,000-acre fire or a 300,000-acre fire. We still have a job to do," said Kauffman. "But there is that sense, like when we think about like what are we doing, how's that going… This is a historic fire. It's one that people are going to remember."