A Northern California mountain town was engulfed by a 3-week-old wildfire. It left much of its downtown in ashes. Meanwhile, a wind-whipped blaze destroyed many homes. Crews were preparing for another devastating run of fires on Thursday amid dangerous weather.
On Wednesday night, the Dixie Fire, which was swollen with bone-dry vegetation, and 40 mph (64 km/h) wind gusts, raged through Greenville in northern Sierra Nevada. The town dates back to the California Gold Rush era, and includes some structures that are more than 100 years old.
Although it was not immediately clear how many buildings were destroyed, photos and video taken at the scene suggest that the damage was extensive.
“We lost Greenville tonight,” U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents the area, said in an emotional Facebook video. “There’s just no words.”
The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office posted a Facebook warning to the approximately 800 residents of the town: “You are in imminent risk and you must leave now!”
The state’s largest wildfire, which erupted July 21, had blackened more than 504 square miles (1.305 kilometers). Before it started its new run, it had destroyed dozens of houses.
Mitch Matlow, a fire spokesperson, stated that “we did everything we could.” “Sometimes it’s just too much.”
Officials said that between 35 to 40 homes and other structures were destroyed in the River Fire, which broke out Wednesday close to Colfax, a small town with approximately 2,000 inhabitants. It was located about 100 miles (160km) south. It ripped through almost 4 miles (10 km2) of dry brush and trees in less than an hour. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, there was no containment and approximately 6,000 people were placed under evacuation orders in Placer and Nevada counties.
Around 5,000 firefighters made progress early in the week on the Dixie Fire. They saved some homes and bulldozed areas of unburned vegetation to protect a third.
Matlow stated that more fire engines and bulldozers had been ordered to help the fight. Matlow stated that the fire spread to thousands of acres on Wednesday and that an additional 4,000 people were evacuated. This brought nearly 26,500 people under evacuation orders in several counties.
Red flag weather conditions of high heat and low humidity, gusty afternoon or evening winds and high heat erupted Wednesday. They are expected to continue to be a threat.
Officials said that winds were likely to shift direction several times on Thursday, placing pressure on firefighters in areas of the fire not seen activity for several days.
Matlow stated that the trees, grass, and brush were so dry, “if an ember land, you’re practically guaranteed to start another fire.”
The Dixie Fire ran parallel to a canyon that was used as a chimney. It was so hot it produced enormous pyrocumulus columns. He said that these clouds create chaotic winds and make a fire “critically unstable” making it difficult to predict its direction.
Dawn Garofalo ran with two horses and a dog from a friend’s mountain estate and watched as the sky rose from the west side Lake Almanor.
She said Wednesday, “There’s only a one-way in and one-way out.” “I didn’t want to be stuck there if the fire broke out.”
To the west of Dixie Fire, lightning-sparked McFarland Fire threatened homes in remote areas along the Trinity River in Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It was located 150 miles (240 km) away. After burning through drought-stricken vegetation covering nearly 33 miles (85 km2), the fire was only 7% extinguished.
Similar weather conditions were expected in Southern California. Heat advisories and warnings were issued to interior valleys, mountains, and deserts throughout the week.
Wildfires in America’s West have become more difficult to combat due to heat waves and droughts that are linked to climate change. Climate change, according to scientists, has caused the region to become warmer and dryer over the past 30 year. This will make it more difficult for wildfires to be controlled and more destructive.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported that more than 20,000 firefighters and other support personnel were fighting 97 active wildfires, covering approximately 2,919 sq miles (7,560 km) in 13 U.S. States.