GREENVILLE, Calif. (AP) – Shelton Douthit and his team at the Feather River Land Trust in Northern California have worked to restore lush natural habitat and protect native artifacts around Almanor Lake. Now, after a massive forest fire has ravaged the region, he knows “nothing is certain”.
Driven by high winds and dry vegetation, the Dixie Fire destroyed most of downtown and dozens of homes in the community of Greenville during the Gold Rush era, becoming the third largest of California history. The museum, medical offices, fire equipment and structures important to a Native American tribe have been lost in the town of about 1,000 people.
“This fire is so intense that I think we are learning as a community, as a region, that this is not a normal fire. It’s a beast, ”said Douthit, who is the executive director of the trust.
The Dixie Fire, named after the road it started, was still raging Friday and now spans an area of 1,751 square kilometers, an area larger than the size of New York City. No injuries or deaths were reported, but the blaze continued to threaten more than 10,000 homes on Friday. It is only 35% content.
Firefighters said the gusts were so strong on Thursday that they uprooted a tree and knocked it over in a garage.
“It’s going to be a long fight,” said Captain Mitch Matlow, spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
About a two-hour drive south, firefighters get the better of the rapid river fire that broke out near the town of Colfax on Wednesday and destroyed nearly 90 homes and other buildings. More than 5,000 people have been ordered to evacuate Placer and Nevada counties, state fire officials said.
Dale Huber entered the fire zone on Friday to check on his brother’s house, which has been reduced to rubble.
“It used to be a bunch of cool stuff, and now it’s just rubbish,” Huber said. “You can’t fix it. We can rip it off and start over or run away. I think he has decided he wants to rebuild here.
The three-week-old Dixie Fire was one of 100 large active fires burning in 14 states, most in the West, where historic drought left the land parched and ready to be kindled.
The cause of the fire was under investigation. But the Pacific Gas & Electric utility said it could have been triggered when a tree fell on one of the utility power lines.
Thick smoke produced by the blaze’s intense and erratic winds was hampering efforts by firefighters on Friday to search for hot spots in the air, forcing them to rely on infrared technology instead. Smoke also blanketed central California and western Nevada, causing air quality to deteriorate to very unhealthy levels.
As of noon, the air quality index in Chester, about 20 miles northwest of Greenville, hit 998, more than triple the level where dangerous levels begin, according to the U.S. Quality Index. air.
In Susanville, Randy Robbins watched quarter-sized pieces of ash fall as the fire spread 10 kilometers from his home.
“It’s crazy to think this fire started 50 miles (80 kilometers) from our house, easily,” he said. “You can’t imagine how big it is. You look at a map and say to yourself, “How is that possible? “
Heat waves and historic drought linked to climate change have made Forest fires 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.
The flames severely damaged Canyondam, a hamlet of about three dozen residents, and also reached Chester, but crews were successful in protecting homes and businesses there, officials said.
The blaze was not far from the town of Paradise, which was largely destroyed in a 2018 wildfire started by PG&E equipment that killed 85 people, making it the wildfire deadliest American in the country for at least a century.
Eva Gorman said she managed to retrieve photos from the wall, her favorite jewelry and important documents before she fled. She has been told that her house has burned down, but she waits until she can see it with her own eyes to believe that she is missing.
How could another California city be reduced to ashes, she wondered.
“That’s what I keep thinking. It’s happening again, ”she said. “It’s unfathomable.”
Nguyen reported from Oakland, California. Associated Press editors Terry Chea in Colfax, Calif., Christopher Weber and Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.