Dixie Hearth jumps line; California purple flag warnings
Firefighters battling dozens of flames in the west braced themselves for hotter, drier weather as dangerous conditions threatened to spark new forest fires in several states.
The Dixie Fire blazed through Greenville, California, leaving few buildings behind. The fire burned primarily through most of the downtown area and some surrounding houses in the small mountain community. Photos of the area showed an orange hue in the sky and small patches of fire, remnants of the destruction in the city.
“If you are still in the Greenville area, you are in imminent danger and MUST go now !!” The Plumas County Sheriff’s office posted on Facebook on Wednesday.
Firefighters had tried to protect the town from the fire that crept through Counties Plumas and Butte by clearing debris from streets and marking dangers.
The National Weather Service was issuing red flag warnings for parts of California, Nevada and Oregon through Thursday evening, expecting gusty winds and low humidity that could cause dry vegetation to burn quickly.
Gusts could exceed 40 miles per hour in single-digit humidity areas, which can cause fires “to rapidly increase in size and intensity before first responders can contain them,” the Reno, Nevada Weather Service said.
There are 27 active large forest fires in these three states, and 96 large forest fires in 14 states have burned more than 2,900 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Northern California, the Dixie Fire remains the largest fire in the state as conditions fuel the flames. Firefighters saw activity on the east and west sides of the 395 square mile fire on Wednesday.
More evacuation orders came in on Tuesday, affecting around 15,000 people as the fire jumped the boundary lines.
“I think we definitely have a tough few days ahead of us,” said Shannon Prather of the US Forest Service.
Mike Wink, a chief of the state fire department, said the fire created a pyrocumulus cloud, or “cloud of fire”, on Tuesday.
The fire has been burning since July 13, destroying 67 buildings and damaging nine more, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Almost 5,000 firefighters are working on the fire, which was 35% contained as of Wednesday.
The McFarland Fire, about 250 miles west, has doubled every day since a lightning strike started the fire less than a week ago. The fire is only contained 5% and has burned nearly 25 square miles.
Scientists said climate change caused conditions that resulted in warmer and drier weather in the west, making forest fires burn larger areas more intensely and more frequently.
In Oregon, the state’s third largest fire in history, the Bootleg Fire, burned more than 640 square miles. Although conditions remain dry, firefighters made strides improving fire lines, forest service said, and the fire was 84% contained. The Bootleg Fire remained the largest fire in the country until Wednesday.
As a result, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning on Wednesday in Pendleton, Oregon. The warning applies until Thursday, 11 p.m. The problem kicks in as gusty thunderstorms hit 40 to 80 miles per hour and could increase the spread of fire, according to the weather service.
In Nevada and California, the Tamarack fire, which stretched over 68,000 acres, is 82% contained on Wednesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. People could see more smoke around the fire, the center said.
The fire began with a lightning strike on July 4th and remained relatively small until high winds caused the fire to spread across Alpine County in Nevada in mid-July. Douglas County reported that 13 buildings were damaged or lost as a result of the Tamarack fire, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Hawaii, the Big Island’s biggest forest fire of all time was more under control on Tuesday after slower winds and some rain.
“We surrounded the fire,” Troy Gibson, the fire chief, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
The fire had burned more than 62 square miles.
Contributors: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press