Dixie Fire Threatens Towns in Northern California

The wildfire is one of at least six large ones burning in Northern California. High winds, low humidity and searing temperatures exacerbate the risk that fire will spread.,

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The Dixie fire threatens towns in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Firefighters working to protect a home from the Dixie fire after it reached Janesville, Calif. on Monday.
Firefighters working to protect a home from the Dixie fire after it reached Janesville, Calif. on Monday.Credit…Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times
  • Aug. 17, 2021, 7:55 a.m. ET

The Dixie fire, the second-largest in California’s recorded history, was wheeling on Tuesday morning toward one of the biggest urban targets in its path: The city of Susanville, population 15,000.

The former logging and mining town is the seat of Lassen County, and one of several places in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where the authorities issued evacuation orders or warnings on Monday. Officials in Northern California expect the fire danger to remain exceptionally high over the next few days amid high winds, low humidity and triple-digit temperatures.

One of the places being evacuated on Monday evening was the area in and around Janesville, about 12 miles southeast of Susanville. Journalists posted pictures and videos showing flames in the night sky a few miles from Janesville.

Afternoon wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour on Monday pushed the fire within a few miles of Susanville, The Associated Press reported on Monday. The city’s police department asked residents to be ready to evacuate.

“Fire behavior is unpredictable and we simply don’t know how it will progress,” the Lassen County Sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post on Monday evening.

The Dixie fire is one of at least six large blazes in Northern California. It began more than a month ago and has so far burned an area about three-quarters the size of Rhode Island. As of Monday it had spread to more than 600,000 acres across four counties, according to a New York Times wildfire tracker.

But the fire was only 31 percent contained — the same as it had been 24 hours earlier.

“There was a lot of fire activity today, unfortunately, for our resources and the people that live out here,” Jake Cagle, an official with the California Interagency Incident Management Team, said in a briefing on Monday evening, referring to an area west of Susanville. He said that high winds in the area had been expected to start dying down around midnight but that “critical fire weather” would persist into Tuesday.

To the west, the McFarland fire had burned 69,000 acres as of Monday night and was 51 percent contained, according to the Times wildfire tracker. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office issued a mandatory evacuation order on Monday for Platina Township, a community of about 200 people north of Mendocino National Forest that is threatened by the fire.

And the Monument fire, further northwest, “challenged firefighters with significant fire activity” on Monday, forestry officials at the Shasta-Trinity National Forest said in a statement. That fire had burned 102,883 acres and was only 10 percent contained.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the California utility, has said that it might have to shut off power for 48,000 customers in 18 of the state’s counties on Tuesday evening, including in the Sierra Nevada foothills, to prevent power lines from starting wildfires.

The cause of the Dixie fire remains under investigation. In July, PG&E said blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked it.

The Dixie fire is one of about 100 wildfires across the West that have forced the U.S. Forest Service to deploy about 21,000 federal firefighters in states parched by drought and scorching temperatures this summer, more than double the number deployed at this time a year ago.

The growth of fires has continued this week even as the Bootleg fire, which had ravaged more 400,000 acres of southern Oregon since early July, was fully contained over the weekend.

Although wildfires occur throughout the West every year, scientists see the influence of climate change in the extreme heat waves that have contributed to the intensity of fires this summer. Prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures are a signal of a shifting climate, they say.

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