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The Tamarack and Dixie fires quickly spread to northern California

A pair of fast-growing California wildfires have ravaged nearly 100,000 acres while releasing noxious smoke, generating clouds of pyrocumulus, lightning and other dangerous weather conditions and adding to the growing misery of forest fires in the state.

The five-day-old Dixie fire, spanning Butte and Plumas counties, has stranded fire crews as it continues to swell – doubling in size to 60,000 acres on Tuesday with just 15% containment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Pacific Gas & Electric said its utility equipment may have started the fire after an electrician found two blown fuses and a tree leaning on a power line conductor in the area near the ignition point of the fire.

Monday’s fire became so volatile that it generated its own cloud of pyrocumulonimbus, which created its own lightning bolt, said Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the Sacramento National Weather Service.

The vertically growing clouds are unstable and extremely hot, he said, noting that “they are dangerous on several fronts, mainly because it is possible for lightning to develop under fire and cause this to occur. itself can start new fires “.

Lightning played a huge role in the state’s record-breaking fire season last year, and wildfire experts have said similar patterns could occur in 2021 if conditions repeat themselves.

“You definitely wouldn’t want to be near any of them,” Rowe said of the cloud.

But that’s precisely what fire crews face, according to Rick Carhart, spokesperson for Cal Fire’s Butte County unit.

“The last two days we’ve had pretty bad weather conditions,” Carhart said. “This [cloud] caused extreme fire activity, which essentially caused our firefighters to back down until the weather calmed down. “

Firefighters did a good job keeping the flames away from the site of the 2018 camp fire, which ravaged the nearby town of Paradise, he said. But now he’s heading to Almanor Lake, where there are other houses and cabins.

Evacuation orders in parts of Butte and Plumas counties remained in effect on Tuesday, officials said.

Crews are working against steep slopes and nearly impassable terrain, Carhart said, especially since the fire is far from roads that would allow easy access with engines and hoses.

“In this case, we go for miles and do a lot of work with tools instead of water because we can’t even get water in some of these places,” he said. .

And as the blaze continues to expand, more and more staff are focusing on the aggressive blaze.

“We’re always bringing in more resources,” Carhart said, “because this thing just keeps growing on us.”

Meanwhile, the Tamarack fire near the California-Nevada border in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest swelled overnight from 23,000 acres to nearly 40,000 on Tuesday morning with 0% containment, according to the US Forest Service.

The aggressive lightning-triggered blaze sparked mandatory evacuation orders from Markleeville to Mesa Vista, with the Alpine County Sheriff’s Office posting on Facebook that authorities had no electricity and were doing their best to provide information to threatened residents.

More than half of the county’s residents remained without power on Tuesday, officials said.

The fire is spreading with such force that it is also starting to generate its own time, said fire spokeswoman Tracy LeClair. Tuesday morning, a large cloud of pyrocumulonimbus could be seen forming on the fire.

“As the heat of the fire increases, that heat increases and it starts to suck the surrounding air with it,” said LeClair, “and then it all goes up to the top. That’s when- there that you start to see those clouds.

Smoke from the blaze also darkened the skies in neighboring South Lake Tahoe, while Markleeville on Tuesday morning had an “unhealthy” air quality reading of nearly 200, according to the monitoring site. air from the EPA AirNow.Gov.

Smoke presents a challenge for firefighters, Tamarack fire incident spokesperson Mike DeFries said, as it makes flight operations and accurate mapping difficult.

More than 1,000 firefighters battled the flames, but, like the Dixie fire, many grapple with steep, rocky terrain at elevations of up to 7,000 feet.

“A lot of the land isn’t in a place where you can necessarily send groups of firefighters out to try and create traditional lines,” DeFries said. “You basically have to fight it where you can.”

Teams are prioritizing the northeast corner of the blaze on Tuesday in an effort to keep the blaze west of Highway 395 and away from homes and structures, he said. .

But the safety of firefighters is also a concern, as erratic flames encounter “super-dry” pine-juniper forests and highly combustible grasses.

“Right now,” DeFries said, “there’s a lot going on at the same time.”

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