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Dixie fire: 10,000 buildings threatened as largest US wildfire tears through northern California

Dixie fire: 10,000 buildings threatened as largest US wildfire tears through northern California

People living in the scenic forestlands of northern California were facing a weekend of fear as huge wildfires threatened to reduce thousands of homes to ashes.

The Dixie fire, which has been raging for three weeks and incinerated much of the gold rush-era town of Greenville this week was threatening more than 10,000 buildings in the northern Sierra Nevada. It had engulfed an area larger than the size of New York City.

It was the largest current wild-land blaze in the nation and the third-largest in recorded California history, according to the state department of fire and forestry protection.

Wind-driven flames destroyed dozens of homes and most of Greenville’s downtown on Wednesday and Thursday, and also heavily damaged Canyondam, a hamlet with a population of about three dozen people. The fire reached Chester but crews managed to protect homes and businesses there, officials said.

Charlene Mays kept her gas station in Chester open as long as she could, telling weary firefighters not to apologize for the trail of ash their boots left on the floor. But when the small town on the north-west shore of Lake Almanor lost power, Mays decided it was time for her to leave.

She ran home to grab a box of valuables, including her husband’s class ring and some jewelry. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe. Chunks of ash broke apart as they hit the ground, making a sound like broken glass.

That was two days ago. Since then, Mays has been living in the parking lot of Lassen College in Susanville. Her husband stayed behind to maintain some water tanks firefighters were using. It’s just her, a miniature pinscher chihuahua named Jedidiah and a pit bull named Bear.

Her home was still standing on Friday but her fate was bound with the direction of the wind. She wasn’t alone.

“I’ve got probably 30 of my regular customers right here,” she said.

The Dixie fire, named for the road where it started, now spans an area of 679 square miles and was just 21% contained on Friday. No injuries or deaths have been reported.

Weather at the fire site was expected to have higher humidity and calmer winds on Saturday with temperatures topping 90 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the 40-mph gusts and triple-digit highs recorded earlier in the week.

But the blaze and its neighboring fires, within a couple hundred miles of each other, posed a continuing threat.

Heatwaves and historic drought tied to the climate crisis have made wildfires harder to fight in the American west.

Dixie fire: 10,000 buildings threatened as largest US wildfire tears through northern California

Scientists say climate breakdown has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Smoke from the fires blanketed central California and western Nevada, causing air quality to deteriorate to very unhealthy levels and, in some areas, the worst levels in the world as measured by World Air Quality Index, especially in Plumas county, about 170 miles north of Sacramento, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Air quality advisories extended through the San Joaquin Valley and as far west as the San Francisco Bay Area, where residents were urged to keep their windows and doors shut.

California is on track to surpass last year, which had the worst fire season in recent recorded state history.

Since the start of the year, more than 6,000 blazes have destroyed more than 1,260 sq miles, more than triple the losses for the same period in 2020, according to state fire figures.

As well as climate change and neglected forest management, the utility company Pacific Gas & Electric’s transmission lines often spark fires, including possibly the Dixie blaze.

The Dixie fire ignited less than 10 miles from the start of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in California’s history, also sparked by PG&E equipment, in the thickly forested Feather River Canyon, 100 miles north of state capital Sacramento. The Camp fire destroyed the towns of Paradise and Concow and killed 85 people.

California’s raging wildfires were among more than 100 large, active fires burning across 14 states, mostly in the west where historic drought conditions have left lands parched and ripe for ignition.


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