The massive Dixie Fire, which has been burning in Northern California for three weeks, burned in the small town of Greenville on Wednesday evening, fueled by strong winds.
The fire ripped through Greenville, shattering shops and homes, while the sky was bathed in an orange glow. An Associated Press photographer described how a gas station, hotel and bar were burned down.
Social media posts reveal significant devastation in downtown Greenville with rows of buildings on fire. During the day, people fled as the fire approached.
“It was just devastating,” a Greenville resident told ABC10 News, fighting back tears. “It’s the emotional burden. Everyone has received it.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa shared photos of burning buildings on Main Street taken by his staff. “These pictures crush my heart,” he said.
Greenville, with its 1,000 residents, is located in a remote mountain area in Pulmas County. According to a local story, much of the city burned in a fire in 1881 but was quickly rebuilt.
The fire in Counties Butte and Plumas had exploded on 274,139 acres, making it the eighth largest forest fire in recorded California history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety. It is 35% included.
At least 67 buildings were destroyed and more than 12,000 are at risk, according to the latest incident report.
The Dixie Fire broke out near a power station in Feather River Canyon three weeks ago. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said in a report that its equipment could have started the fire.
A red flag warning went into effect for the fire area and much of the region on Wednesday at 1 p.m. when a cold, dry front was expected, according to Ryan Walbrun, a meteorologist for the Dixie fire. The warning lasts until Thursday 8 p.m.
“It will set up a critical fire weather pattern,” Walbrun said during an incident update.
Wind gusts are expected to reach 30 to 40 miles per hour and “push the fire up by itself,” Walbrun said. These winds hit single-digit humidity levels, which are considered critically dry for the region, and temperatures in the 80s and 90s.
Citing a description of a behavioral fire analyst, the Dixie fire incident spokesman Capt. Mitch Matlow that the fire hazard was at its maximum on Wednesday.
The fire raged overnight in unusually low humidity.
A bag of unburned fuel along the north end of the fire ignited Monday, said Mike Wink, director of operations for Incident Management Team 1 at Cal Fire, which also focused on the West Zone.
A cocktail of smoke and wind pushed the fire past containment lines, and fire departments have since worked to push it back, he said.
Despite efforts to clear the vegetation and dispose of about 230,000 gallons of fire retardant along Humboldt Road, “it came outside of all of these things, it rose up in these hills, and we tracked it,” said Wink.
Two point fires merged Tuesday, sending a 30,000-foot cloud of pyrocumulus into the air.
There has also been increased fire activity between Prattville and Lake Almanor West, and firefighters are actively protecting structures in those communities as well as in Chester and a peninsula in Lake Almanor, Matlow said.
Officials at the latest update of the incident were gloomy.
“I just want to acknowledge that for some people we see some light at the end of the tunnel and others may not see that much light there,” said Chris Carlton, supervisor for Plumas National Forest.
Because many evacuation orders are subject to change, Matlow advised residents to check their county’s social media and website for the latest information.
Nearby, the lightning-struck McFarland Fire burns aggressively through Counties Shasta and Trinity west of the Dixie Fire.
By Wednesday, it had burned more than 20,000 acres and was 5% contained, according to an incident report updated Wednesday
Drought-stricken fuels similarly feed the fire, which “has the potential to continue dangerous rates of spread,” the incident report said.
The conditions that plagued the Dixie Fire and other forest fires in the state are part of a broader regional trend.
Much of the western United States has experienced extreme heat and drought due to the worsening climate crisis, which is drying the vegetation that serves as susceptible tinder.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 96 major fires in 14 states burned 1,883,541 acres this year.
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