September 24 2021 03:30 pm

Dixie Fire engulfs town of Greenville, leveling businesses

Wildfire Watch

GREENVILLE, Calif. (KTXL/AP) — California’s largest wildfire has leveled much of the downtown and some surrounding homes in a small Northern California mountain community.

The Dixie Fire tore through Greenville on Wednesday evening, destroying businesses and homes as the sky was cast in an orange glow. A photographer on assignment for The Associated Press described seeing a gas station, hotel and bar burned to the ground.

“If you are still in the Greenville area, you are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now!!” the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook earlier Wednesday.

The sheriff’s department and Cal Fire did not immediately respond to messages.

The 3-week-old fire has grown to over 428 square miles (1,108 square kilometers) across Plumas and Butte counties.

The destruction came amid a red flag warning issued by forecasters warning of hot, bone-dry conditions with winds up to 40 mph (64 kph). That could drive flames through timber, brush and grass, especially along the northern and northeastern sides of the vast Dixie Fire.

“I think we definitely have a few hard days ahead of us,” said Shannon Prather with the U.S. Forest Service.

Heat from the flames created a pyrocumulus cloud, a massive column of smoke that rose 30,000 feet (10,000 yards) in the air, said Mike Wink, a state fire operations section chief.

Dawn Garofalo watched the cloud grow from the west side of the lake, where she fled with a dog and two horses, from a friend’s property near Greenville.

“There’s only one way in and one way out. I didn’t want to be stuck up there if the fire came through,” Garofalo said.

From her campsite on the lake bed, she watched the fire glowing on the horizon before dawn. “The flames were huge. They must have been 500 feet high. Scary,” she said.

Nearly 5,000 fire personnel continue to battle the fire, burning northeast of Paradise, which started July 13. As of Wednesday morning, it’s burned 274,139 acres and is 35% contained.

The Dixie Fire merged with the nearby Fly Fire, which started July 22. It has since moved up the list of California’s biggest wildfires to become the 8th largest in the state’s history.

More than 12,100 structures are threatened by the fire, Cal Fire reported. Forty-five structures have been destroyed, 22 minor structures have been destroyed and nine structures have been damaged.

Evacuation orders and warnings were lifted for several remote areas of Butte and Plumas counties last week, but more were ordered Monday and Tuesday.

Firefighters were able to save homes and hold large stretches of the blaze. But flames jumped perimeter lines in a few spots Tuesday, prompting additional evacuation orders for about 15,000 people east of Lake Almanor, fire officials said.

Because evacuation orders and warnings are changing frequently, Cal Fire is directing residents to the social media pages of local law enforcement and forest management.

Residents can also sign up for their county’s CodeRed emergency alert system for evacuation information using the links below:

The following locations have been listed as evacuation centers:

  • Springs of Hope Church at 59 Bell Lane in Quincy, CA in Plumas County
  • Lassen Community College at 78-200 CA-139 in Susanville, CA in Lassen County

For online resources and the latest information on evacuation orders, click or tap here.

Pacific Gas & Electric has reported to California utility regulators that its equipment may have been involved in the Dixie and Fly fire’s start.

PG&E equipment has repeatedly been linked to major wildfires, including the Camp Fire that ravaged the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

Sunday evening, the San Luis Obispo Fire Department posted video of their fire crews “hard at work defending homes on the Dixie Fire despite encountering challenging conditions such as erratic fire behavior.”

Crews have had to battle the blaze mostly from the air due to difficult terrain, and narrow roads into the fire area have been closed to all but fire personnel. 

In some places where firefighters are not able to access the flames by road, they’re using Union Pacific engines, with water tanks in the front and back. The engines travel the tracks on the west side of the Feather River, which also provides a convenient water source for helicopters.

Several thunderstorms passed over the east zone of the fire last week, temporarily halting some planned firing operations, Cal Fire said.

In the Dixie Fire West Zone, crews expect fire activity to increase Wednesday due to dry conditions, Cal Fire reported. Steep terrain, heavy fuel loading and wind are making containment difficult. Tuesday, fire activity continued into the evening hours with active uphill runs, flanking and single tree torching.

The fire grew north in the East Zone with active burning due to red flag weather conditions Tuesday, Cal Fire reported. Poor relative humidity recovery and dry conditions contributed to fire activity overnight. No additional structures were damaged in evacuated areas.

Officials shared an evacuation map, with areas in red representing mandatory evacuations and the yellow areas being evacuation warning zones.

Lassen National Forest and Plumas National Forest officials have also issued closures.

Road closures include Bucks Lake Road, Lower Big Creek Road and northbound Chandler Road. All highway closures are being reported by Caltrans on its website.

Cal Fire Butte Unit posted a video Monday for residents eager to get back onto Highway 70. 

“We’re seeing a lot of rolling of embers and debris. … Just know that our number one priority is getting you guys home safely and that we’re definitely keeping your concerns in mind.” 

People traveling in the area should follow egress route directions in the evacuation notification because GPS can lead drivers to hazardous areas, Cal Fire warned.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Plumas, Butte, Lassen and Alpine counties because of wildfires that he said were causing “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.” The proclamation opened the way for more state support.

Click or tap here for additional information.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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