Nearly 900 buildings destroyed by massive California fire

12th August, 2021.      //   Climate Change  // 

GREENVILLE (California) — On Tuesday, fire workers attempted to defend rural towns from flames that had destroyed hundreds of homes in California’s largest single wildfire in recorded history.

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Clear skies over portions of the Dixie Fire, which has been burning for a month, have allowed aircraft to join almost 6,000 firefighters fighting the blaze this week.

“Whether or not we can fly depends very much on where the smoke is. There’s still some areas where it’s just too smoky,” Edwin Zuniga, spokesperson with the fire department, said.

As afternoon winds took hold, heavy smoke hampered visibility on the fire’s west end, while the east end saw renewed activity, according to fire officials.

By Tuesday, the fire had destroyed over 1,000 structures, including roughly 550 homes, as it burned through bone-dry trees, shrubs, and grass. During an aggressive rush of flames last week, much of the little village of Greenville was burned.

However, because assessment teams can’t reach into many regions to count what burnt, the reports are “certainly open to change,” according to Zuniga.

The Dixie Fire, which got its name from the road where it started, endangered 14,000 buildings in a dozen small alpine and rural settlements in the northern Sierra Nevada.

Thousands of acres of new fire lines have been cut to keep the fire from expanding. Officials believe the fire lines built on the blaze’s southern side will keep it at bay, but the fire’s future is undetermined, according to authorities.

“We don’t know where this fire is going to end and where it’s going to land. It continues to challenge us,” Plumas National Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton said.

Temperatures are forecast to climb and humidity levels to drop during the following several days, with triple-digit high temperatures and a return of strong afternoon winds possible later in the week, according to fire meteorologist Rich Thompson.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the fire that started on July 14 extended slightly on Tuesday to an area of 766 square miles (1,984 square kilometers), but containment climbed to 27 percent.

The Dixie Fire is nearly half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused 2020 flames that raged across seven counties and are considered California’s largest wildfire overall by state officials.

Northern Shasta, Trinity, and Tehama counties were declared states of emergency by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. The proclamation frees up state resources to aid those affected by the fires and fight the fires in designated counties.

The roaring wildfires in California are among more than a hundred big fires raging across 15 states, largely in the West, where severe drought has left lands dry and ready for ignition.

The Dixie Fire is the state’s largest single fire in history, as well as the largest presently burning in the United States. According to Rocky Oplinger, an incident commander, about a quarter of all firefighters assigned to Western fires are battling California blazes.

Heat waves and record droughts linked to climate change have made fighting wildfires in the American West more difficult. Climate change has made the region significantly warmer and drier in the last 30 years, according to scientists, and will continue to make weather more intense and wildfires more frequent and catastrophic. The fires in the West are occurring at a time when portions of Europe are also battling huge fires sparked by tinder-dry conditions.

The small villages of Ashland and Lame Deer in southeastern Montana were forced to evacuate on Tuesday as a wildfire threatened hundreds of houses outside the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Strong, irregular gusts, according to Rosebud County Sheriff Allen Fulton, were driving the fires.

“We’re actually pretty worried about it,” Fulton stated. “It’s jumping highways, it’s jumping streams. A paved road is about a good a fire line as we could ask for, and it’s going over that in spots.”

Hundreds of homes were endangered by two flames northwest of the Dixie Fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The McFarland Fire, on the other hand, was over 50% contained. Residents near the Monument Fire, which is only about 3% contained, were handed new evacuation orders on Monday.

South of the Dixie Fire, firefighters stopped the River Fire from spreading further, which started last Wednesday in Colfax and destroyed 68 homes. It had been limited to approximately 80% of its original size.