As fire personnel attempted to safeguard rural towns from flames that had burned hundreds of houses, California’s largest single wildfire in recorded history continued to burn into forestlands.
On Monday, thick smoke lifted around one edge of the Dixie Fire, allowing aircraft to join almost 6,000 firefighters in the fight. Many were fighting to save more than a dozen small alpine and rural towns in the Sierra Nevada’s northern reaches.
At an evening briefing, Kyle Jacobson, the east zone incident commander, stated, “Today was the first day in a few days that we had nice, clean air in there so we were able to deploy our helicopters,” allowing some progress.
“We have no idea where this fire will end up or where it will land. The Plumas National Forest supervisor, Chris Carlton, stated, “It continues to test us.”
However, fire meteorologist Rich Thompson warned that high-pressure building over the Western United States meant the weather would heat up and dry out again in the coming days, with temperatures possibly reaching triple digits on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as a return of strong afternoon winds.
These are the circumstances that have accelerated the development of the fire since it started on July 13. The fire had burnt more than 600 homes and other buildings, incinerating much of the small hamlet of Greenville, as it blazed through bone-dry trees, bushes, and grass. A total of 14,000 buildings were in jeopardy.
Officials say damage reports are preliminary since assessment teams can’t reach into many places.
Even more concerning, monsoonal moisture from the south might bring a chance of thunderstorms throughout the weekend, which could bring dry lightning and winds, posing a larger fire risk, according to Thompson.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the fire had expanded to 753 square miles (1,950 square kilometers) and was just 22% controlled. It had engulfed an area more than twice the size of New York City in flames.
The Dixie Fire is roughly half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused 2020 flames that raged over seven counties and are considered California’s biggest wildfire overall by state officials.
A falling limb hit four firemen on Friday, sending them to the hospital. More than 30 persons were reported missing at first, but the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office had found them all by Monday.
The blazing flames in California are among more than a hundred major fires raging across 15 states, primarily in the West, where unprecedented drought has left areas dry and ready for ignition.
The Dixie Fire was the biggest wildfire in the United States at the time. According to Rocky Oplinger, an incident commander, over a quarter of all firefighters deployed to Western fires are battling California blazes.
Heatwaves and severe droughts linked to climate change have made fighting wildfires in the American West more difficult. Climate change has made the region warmer and drier in the last 30 years, according to scientists, and will continue to make weather more intense and wildfires more frequent and devastating. The flames in the West are occurring at a time when areas of Europe are also battling major fires sparked by tinder-dry weather.
The cause of the fire was being investigated. A tree falling on one of Pacific Gas & Electric’s power cables may have caused the fire. On Friday, a federal judge ordered PG&E to provide information regarding the equipment and vegetation that caused the fire by Aug. 16.
Hundreds of houses were endangered by two flames that continued to develop northwest of the Dixie Fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The McFarland Fire was only about a third controlled. Residents near the Monument Fire, which is only around 3% controlled, were handed new evacuation orders on Monday.
South of the Dixie Fire, firefighters slowed the spread of the River Fire, which started in Colfax on Wednesday and burned 68 houses.