GREENVILLE, Calif. (AP) – A wind-blown wildfire ravaged a northern California mountain town, leaving much of the downtown area to ashes and crews braced for another blast of flames at the in the midst of dangerous weather.
The Dixie Fire, swollen by dry vegetation and gusts of 40 mph, raged Wednesday night in the town of Greenville in the northern Sierra Nevada. Firefighters confirmed that some buildings had been destroyed but had no details.
However, a photographer on assignment for the Associated Press described seeing a burnt gas station, hotel and bar.
The city, which dates from the era of the California Gold Rush, has buildings that are more than a century old.
As the north and east sides of the blaze exploded, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office released a Facebook post warning the town’s 800 or so residents: “You are in imminent danger and you MUST go now!”
The three-week blaze was the largest wildfire in the state and had blackened over 435 square miles and already burned down dozens of homes before making its new run.
Earlier this week, some 5,000 firefighters had made progress on the blaze, saving homes under threat, bulldozing pockets of unburned vegetation and succeeding in encircling a third of the perimeter.
“We did everything we could,” said firefighter spokesman Mitch Matlow. “Sometimes that’s just not enough.”
More fire trucks and bulldozers have been ordered to bolster the fight, he said. The blaze spread over thousands of acres on Wednesday and an additional 4,000 people were ordered to evacuate, bringing nearly 26,500 people to several counties under evacuation orders, he said. .
Red flag weather conditions of high heat, low humidity and gusty afternoon and evening winds erupted on Wednesday and are expected to be a continuing threat through Thursday evening.
The trees, grass and brush were so dry that “if an embers land, you’re pretty much guaranteed to start a new fire,” said Matlow.
“The fire behavior analyst said that each fire risk is maximum,” he added.
The blaze also ran parallel to an area of canyon that served as a chimney, so hot it created huge columns of pyrocumulus smoke that brought chaotic winds, making it “critically erratic” and difficult to predict the direction of. growth, he added.
Dawn Garofalo watched the cloud rise over the west side of Almanor Lake, where she fled with a dog and two horses, from a friend’s property near Greenville.
“There’s only one way to get in and out,” she said. “I didn’t want to be stuck up there if the fire was going through.”
From her camp on the lake bed, she watched the fire glow on the horizon before dawn.
About 150 miles to the west, the lightning-triggered McFarland Fire threatened isolated homes along the Trinity River in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The blaze was only 5% contained after burning nearly 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) of drought-stricken vegetation.
Similar risky weather was expected in southern California, where advisories and heat warnings were issued for inland valleys, mountains and deserts for much of the week.
Heat waves and the historic drought associated with climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather conditions more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
More than 20,000 firefighters and support personnel were fighting 97 large active wildfires covering 2,919 square miles (7,560 square kilometers) in 13 US states, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
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