Sugar Hearth goes over 100,000 acres; Dixie Hearth triples in dimension

As the Butte County’s Dixie Fire continues to grow, the Sugar Fire, burning in the Plumas National Forest north of Sacramento, is California’s first 100,000 acre fire this year.

The lightning-struck Sugar Fire caught on July 2 and grew rapidly in size as crews battled extreme temperatures and gusts of wind.

In the days that followed, spot fires and flares made it difficult for firefighters to gain a foothold, officials said. At some point it grew at such a rate that its massive cloud of smoke, ash, and heat created its own lightning bolt.

By Friday night, the Sugar fire had reached 105,163 acres and was 70% contained.

During a morning briefing, Jake Cagle, head of the US Forest Service Operations Section, said that the 100,000 acre Megafire milestone is no longer uncommon in California, which had a record forest fire season in 2020 and has already exceeded those numbers this year.

“Those are the new norms now,” said Cagle. “We always said ‘unprecedented and historic’. We are now behind us. ”

While much of the Sugar Fire’s footprint has been contained, part of its western perimeter near Ross Canyon continues to pose challenges for the team, according to Cagle.

He said crews started removing surface fuel in the area on Friday, but the terrain was “extremely steep and rugged”.

The Sugar Fire was one of two fires that were lit by lightning in the forest around the same time and collectively known as the Beckwourth Complex Fire. The second fire, the Dotta Fire, began on June 30th and was 99% contained to 594 acres on Friday.

Together they burned 105,757 acres.

Fire spokeswoman Phyllis Ashmead said the recent heat waves in California and the prolonged drought had enabled the Sugar Fire to be the first to achieve “mega-fire” status this year.

“First and foremost, it’s the dry fuels we have and the low humidity that really create these fires,” she said, noting that this type of fire behavior is usually not seen until August or September.

“It’s extremely dynamic. … And not only here, but in many areas. It’s the same conditions all over California, ”she said.

The burgeoning Dixie fire, which more than tripled to 7,947 hectares on Thursday evening, is also worrying. By Friday evening it had grown by almost 1,000 hectares.

That fire lit Wednesday morning and was 9% contained by Friday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety.

The fire burns in the scar of the 2018 bonfire but is moving north, away from populated areas, said Kimberly McGuire, spokeswoman for the incident. No houses or structures are currently threatened.

McGuire said Thursday’s strong winds drove the fire’s significant growth. On Friday there were again strong winds in the region and brightening is expected on Sunday and Monday.

“We have a lot of dry fuel and that wind is really damaging to the situation right now,” she said.

Area residents said the wildfire’s proximity to the campfire was reminiscent of that devastating fire that killed more than 85 people and reduced the town of Paradise to rubble.

McGuire said Cal Fire officials are working hard to “reassure them that we are doing our best and that for the moment we are genuinely confident and confident that we can keep the fire away from the community of Paradise”.

Fire officials are even using some of the containment lines from the 2018 fire in the fight against the Dixie fire, she said, which helps create a protective barrier for residents.

Mandatory evacuations for the High Lake area and the Butte-Plumas County line from Rock Creek to Tobin remained in place on Friday, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said.

Evacuation warnings also apply from east of Tobin to Caribou.

Although crews are making progress on the Sugar and Dixie fires, conditions in California remain so ripe for ignition that the National Interagency Fire Center’s interagency coordination group raised the National Interagency Fire Center’s national readiness level to 5 this week – the highest level of wildfires.

The decision was driven by significant fire activity in many areas, the NIFC said in a statement.

“Given the persistently hot and dry weather, the increase in initial attacks and major fires in the western US, the decision to move to PL 5 shows the complexity that fire managers face in ensuring that adequate extinguishing resources are available to protect human lives . Our nation’s property and natural resources, ”the group said.

It is the earliest such designation in 10 years. In 2002, readiness level 5 was set on June 21 and 2008 on July 1, according to the agency.

Cagle said the 100,000 acre fire milestone is likely to repeat this year, noting that the North Complex fire covered 218,000 acre distance in about six hours in 2020.

By Friday night, the bootleg fire in Oregon’s Fremont-Winema National Forest exceeded 241,000 acres and was only 7% contained, according to the US Forest Service.

Last year there was also California’s first million-acre fire, the August Complex, which spanned several counties, sending huge amounts of smoke and ash into the sky.

“We will continue to see this until our weather pattern changes significantly or we overcome the drought,” said Cagle of the Sugar Fire’s growth. “We see that. Every fire sees that. “

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