September 24 2021 03:30 pm

Dixie Fire explodes past 322K acres, devastates town of Greenville

Wildfire Watch

GREENVILLE, Calif. (KTXL/AP) — Fire crews continue to battle the Dixie Fire after it exploded 50,000 acres overnight, leveling much of the small mountain community of Greenville. 

The Dixie Fire, swollen by bone-dry vegetation and 40-mph gusts, raged through the northern Sierra Nevada town of Greenville Wednesday evening.

“We did everything we could,” fire spokesman Mitch Matlow said. “Sometimes it’s just not enough.”

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents the district the Dixie and River fires are burning in, issued a tearful promise to his constituents Wednesday night.

“But we lost Greenville tonight, and there’s just not words for how us in the government haven’t been able to get the job done. We’ll take up the fight even harder and more so,” LaMalfa said as he stood with the massive plume of smoke from the Dixie Fire over his shoulder. “We got to … stop this. We got to get D.C. to pay attention, we got to get Sacramento to pay attention. Forget the politics, forget the nonsense, we have to stop making this happen by inattention to what is obvious.”

Red flag weather conditions of high heat, low humidity and gusty afternoon and evening winds erupted Wednesday and were expected to be a continued threat through Thursday evening.

The trees, grass and brush were so dry that “if an ember lands, you’re virtually guaranteed to start a new fire,” Matlow said.

The blaze was running parallel to a canyon area that served as a chimney, making it so hot that it created enormous pyrocumulus columns of smoke. These clouds bring chaotic winds, making a fire “critically erratic” so it’s hard to predict the direction of growth, he added.

Nearly 5,000 fire personnel continue to battle the fire, burning northeast of Paradise, which started July 13. As of Thursday morning, it’s burned 322,502 acres across Plumas and Butte counties and is 35% contained.

It has since moved up the list of California’s biggest wildfires to become the 6th largest in the state’s history.

The Dixie Fire merged with the nearby Fly Fire, which started July 22. Pacific Gas & Electric has reported to California utility regulators that its equipment may have been involved in the start of both fires.

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

More than 12,400 structures are threatened by the fire, Cal Fire reported. At least 45 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 this week as flames jumped perimeter lines in a few spots Tuesday, prompting additional evacuation orders for people east of Lake Almanor, fire officials said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the fire grew by thousands of acres and an additional 4,000 people were ordered to evacuate, bringing nearly 26,500 people in several counties under evacuation orders, Matlow 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.

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.

In the Dixie Fire West Zone, extreme weather conditions allowed the fire to grow approximately 50,000 acres overnight into Thursday.

Spot fires in the East Zone burned over control lines in Round Valley and grew explosively, Cal Fire reported.

Despite valiant efforts of firefighters, aerial resources and law enforcement to protect life and defend property, fire spread into the community of Greenville. Damage assessment is ongoing

Cal Fire

Thursday, fire crews will focus on containing the active fire perimeter on the north side, and hold existing lines.

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.

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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