Storms push Northern California wildfires closer to 2 towns


- Dixie Fire: See incident reports from Cal Fire's website.
- Maps: View maps from the U.S. Forest Service.
- Evacuations: Find the latest information from Cal Fire.
- Dixie Fire information line: (530) 538-7826.

The danger of new fires erupting across the West because of unstable weather conditions added to the burden already faced by overstretched crews battling blazes across the region.

Thunderstorms pushed flames in Northern California on Saturday closer to two towns not far from where the Dixie Fire last week destroyed much of the small town of Greenville, a gold rush-era community.

The thunderstorms, which began Friday, didn’t produce much rain but whipped up wind and created lightning strikes, forcing crews to focus on using bulldozers to build lines and keep the blaze from reaching Westwood, a town of about 1,700 people. Westwood was placed under evacuation orders Aug. 5.

Wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) also pushed the fire closer to Janesville, a town of about 1,500 people, east of Greenville, said Jake Cagle, the operations chief at the east zone of the fire.

Storms push Northern California wildfires closer to 2 towns
Statues of Paul Bunyan, and his Big Blue Ox are seen in Westwood, Calif., Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. The statues carved from a nearly 1000 year old tree Redwood log 22 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, and weighing 28,000 pounds are threatened by the fires. In California, the Dixie Fire that virtually destroyed the Sierra Nevada town of Greenville is less than a third surrounded. Fire officials say Northern California will have dangerous fire weather on Friday, including possible lightning that could spark more blazes.Eugene Garcia/AP

“Very tough day in there yesterday in the afternoon and the night (crew) picked up the pieces and tried to secure the edge the best they could with the resources they had,” he said in a briefing Saturday.

The fire was among more than 100 large wildfires burning in more than a dozen states in the West, a region seared by drought and hot, bone-dry weather that turned forests, brushlands, meadows and pastures into tinder.

The U.S. Forest Service said Friday it is operating in crisis mode, fully deploying firefighters and maxing out its support system.

The roughly 21,000 federal firefighters working on the ground is more than double the number of firefighters sent to contain forest fires at this time a year ago, said Anthony Scardina, a deputy forester for the agency’s Pacific Southwest region.

More than 6,000 firefighters alone were battling the Dixie Fire, which has ravaged nearly 845 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) — an area the size of Tokyo — and was 31% contained.

Storms push Northern California wildfires closer to 2 towns
CalFire firefighters and California Correctional Center (CCC) inmates fight a spot fire on the side of Highway CA-36 between Chester and Westwood in Plumas County, Calif., Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. In California, the Dixie Fire that virtually destroyed the Sierra Nevada town of Greenville is less than a third surrounded. Fire officials say Northern California will have dangerous fire weather on Friday, including possible lightning that could spark more blazes. Climate change has made the U.S. West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.Eugene Garcia/AP

“The size is unimaginable, its duration and its impact on these people, all of us, including me, is unbelievable,” said Johnnie Brookwood, who was staying in her third evacuation center.

Brookwood had never heard of a road named Dixie when the wildfire began a month ago in the forestlands of Northern California.

Within three weeks, it exploded into the largest wildfire burning in the U.S., destroying more than 1,000 homes and businesses including a lodge in Greenville where she was renting a room for $650 per month.

“At first (the fire) didn’t affect us at all, it was off in some place called Dixie, I didn’t even know what it means,” Brookwood, 76, said Saturday. “Then it was ‘Oh no we have to go too?’ Surely Greenville won’t burn. But then it did — and now all we can see are ashes.”

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Pacific Gas and Electric has said the fire may have been started when a tree fell on its power line.

Smoke also drove air pollution levels to unhealthy or very unhealthy levels in parts of Northern California, Oregon and Idaho.

Storms push Northern California wildfires closer to 2 towns
A worker blocks CA-89 highway to Canyondam in Plumas County, Calif., that was impacted by the Dixie Fire Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. Isolated thunderstorms in the Sierra Nevada could bring some moisture, but also gusty and erratic winds that could help spread the fire, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said. Lightning could spark new blazes even as crews try to surround a number of other forest fires ignited by lightning last month.Eugene Garcia/AP

In southeastern Oregon, two wildfires started by lightning Thursday near the California border spread rapidly through juniper trees, sagebrush and evergreen trees.

The Patton Meadow Fire about 14 miles (23 kilometers) west of Lakeview, near the California border, exploded to 11 square miles (28 square kilometers) in less than 24 hours in a landscape sucked dry by extreme drought. It was 10% contained.

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Nguyen reported from Oakland, California. Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco and Sara Cline in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.