The Dixie wildfire has now become the second largest in the history of California in the United States, having so far burned more than 187,000 hectares, leaving behind a huge swathe of devastation in the north of the state, destroying more than 400 homes and businesses, while firefighters are doing their best to try to get control of the situation.
The fire has ravaged Plumas, Butte, Lassen and Tehama counties, although it has been slowed in part by falling temperatures over the weekend, but has not prevented the evacuation of thousands of residents from small mountain communities, such as Greenville, which was completely destroyed.
Officials have explained that the “heavy smoke cover over the area” where the fires have been burning is helping to reduce fire activity as temperatures remain low, thanks to slightly higher humidity and slightly lower wind speeds.
However, the smoke is also preventing emergency crews from deploying their aerial firefighting equipment due to the lack of visibility. “When the air is clearer, aircraft will be able to get out and do their job better, but there is also the possibility that these conditions could become more extreme,” said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The tragedy broke out on 13 July near a Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E) service station in Feather River Canyon. The investigation carried out by the company maintains that it could have been caused by a fir tree falling on the power line and does not rule out its responsibility in the fire christened ‘Fly’ that broke out nine days later and eventually merged with ‘Dixie’, as well as a separate forest fire in Magalia, which was extinguished on 14 July after consuming ten hectares.
Despite the improved weather conditions, fire crews remain on alert for the possibility of the situation worsening, due not only to the historically dry weather in the region, but also to the possibility of a repeat of Wednesday’s events, when the fire overran containment lines and destroyed the small community of Greenville.
Authorities are battling against the clock to try to control the situation while the weather conditions are favourable, although they anticipate that the situation will begin to change early in the week, with above-normal high temperatures.
Over the weekend, four firefighters were injured after a tree branch fell on them on Saturday, one of whom remains hospitalised but is in stable condition. Five people are still missing.