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Dixie fire reaches mega-fire status, Tamarack fire spreads

The Dixie fire in Butte and Plumas counties spread to more than 100,000 acres on Thursday, becoming the second California blaze this year to cross the mega-fires milestone.

The aggressive blaze has now destroyed at least eight structures, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said, and at least 1,500 more are at risk as it continues its slow progression east toward the Almanor lake.

The blaze was 103,910 acres and 17% containment Thursday morning, Cal Fire said.

It is the second mega-fire in the state this year. A few days ago, the 105,000 acre sugar fire in Butte County received designation, for a fire exceeding 100,000 acres.

Wildfire experts said the fires in California were burning faster and coming earlier this year because heat and drought dried out the landscape and prepared vegetation to burn.

Wind and topography also played a role in the Dixie Fire’s final run, Cal Fire Butte County spokesman Rick Carhart said as the region’s valleys, peaks and canyons allow erratic movement and propagation.

“There are fire fingers burning, so not the whole fire front is moving together,” Carhart said. “With more flame front out there, there’s more capacity for him to grow.”

Carhart said a clear sky in the forecast for Thursday afternoon would encourage fire activity as it “leaves more sun on the fire and warms things up.”

Another 500 people arrived to help fight the flames, bringing the total crew size to just over 3,900, he said. Firefighters came from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and even Florida to help with the operation.

Evacuation orders for the western shore of Lake Almanor, as well as parts of Butte and Plumas County, remain in effect, officials said.

Evacuation warnings have also been issued in Butterfly Valley, Round Valley Reservoir and Long Valley, the Chester area and the Lake Almanor peninsula.

Several road closures are in place, including portions of Bucks Lake Road and Highway 89, according to the California Department of Transportation.

At a community briefing Wednesday night, Cal Fire chief operating officer Tony Brownell said teams were grappling with 40-foot flame lengths, noting that the point fires were increasingly jumping over the lines of confinement.

“If the conditions are right, we have a high probability of success here,” he said, but “Mother Nature gets a vote. If the wind returns, we get places above the line.

Conditions are just as tough during the Tamarack fire in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which swelled the California-Nevada border for the first time on Wednesday afternoon.

As of Thursday morning, the blaze rose to 50,129 acres and was only 4% under control, according to the US Forest Service.

Fire spokeswoman Tracy LeClair said the focus on Thursday remained near the junction of Highways 88 and 89, as well as along Highway 395, where the fire is most active and constitutes a potential threat to the communities of Spring Valley and Holbrook Highlands.

More than 1,200 people are working to put out the flames, she said, including ground crews, helicopters and tankers.

As with the Dixie fire, firefighters face difficult conditions, LeClair said, including clouds of pyrocumulonimbus and vortices of fire, which can force them to back away.

“On the other side of the fire it’s really really hot, dry and windy,” she said, “and on the east side – due to the change of fuel all the way to the piñon, sage and herbs. – it was very fast and very dangerous.

Smoke continues to be a problem, with conditions in nearby Markleeville transitioning to a “very unhealthy” beach Thursday morning, according to the EPA’s air monitoring site AirNow.gov.

The Tamarack and Dixie fires, along with the massive Bootleg fire in Oregon, create plumes so large their smoke has reached the east coast.

The Alpine County Sheriff’s Office has ordered mandatory evacuations for the Blue Lakes Road area and the Mesa Vista area. Previous evacuation orders issued to Markleeville, Grover Hot Springs, Shay Creek, Woodfords and neighboring areas remain in effect.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada has issued voluntary evacuations for all residents of the Topaz Ranch Estates and Topaz Lake areas. Previously issued evacuation warnings in the Leviathan and Holbrook Junction areas remain unchanged.

Portions of Highway 88 remained closed Thursday due to the fire, Cal Trans said.

Highway 395 east now closed from China Springs Road to the Nevada-California border.





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