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Wildfire triples in size, filling sky over Western Oregon with smoke

Smoke from the Whitewater Fire forms a plume August 2, 2017. (USDA Forest Service)

EUGENE, Ore. - The Whitewater Fire tripled in size Wednesday, putting more unhealthy smoke into the air over Western Oregon.

The wildfire on Mount Jefferson exploded from 1,800 acres to 4,579 acres, fire managers said.

"The fire crossed the wilderness boundary at both Whitewater and Woodpecker creek," the Willamette National Forest said in a statement. "In the northern portion the fire reached the Breitenbush River within the wilderness."

The heat wave helped fuel the fire's rapid growth in recent days.

"Today’s forecast continues to have all the ingredients for very active to extreme fire behavior," fire managers said in a briefing Thursday. "A red flag warning remains in effect and afternoon slope winds could produce very active fire spread. Today is predicted to be the hottest day of the week with temperatures in the low 100s at lower elevations and 90s on the fire. Potential fire behavior could include extended spotting, backing, torching and crown fires."

And smoke from the blaze now shrouds the southern Willamette Valley in an unhealthy haze.

Trail closures remain in effect near the fire, including an 11-mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. Jefferson Park is closed to backpackers.

"Containment efforts will be concentrating on the western and southern flanks of the fire today," the Forest Service said Tuesday in a briefing. "Hand crews will be digging fire lines on inaccessible steep terrain, while heavy equipment will be clearing vegetation along existing roads to be utilized for containment lines. On the south flank, fire managers will be scouting for containment opportunities and beginning to prepare fire lines. Aviation resources will be available when the inversion lifts early this afternoon."

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