Dixie Fire, California's Largest, Burns Near a Scarred Community

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U.S.|California’s largest wildfire is burning near scarred communities.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/26/us/dixie-fire.html

A home was destroyed as the Dixie Fire flared in Plumas County, Calif., on Saturday.
Credit...Noah Berger/Associated Press

Jill Cowan

  • July 26, 2021, 3:35 p.m. ET

The Dixie Fire, California’s largest wildfire this year, continued to chew through thousands of acres of rough terrain on Monday, prompting evacuation orders and threatening communities in a region scarred by the memory of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in the state’s history.

More than 5,400 firefighters were battling the Dixie Fire, which merged over the weekend with another nearby blaze, the Fly Fire, and had burned through about 200,000 acres, according to Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency.

That’s an area a little larger than New York City, and about half of the acreage burned by the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, the nation’s largest this year. But the Bootleg Fire is burning in a more remote area; 300 people live within five miles of that blaze, according to The New York Times’s wildfire tracker, compared with 4,900 within five miles of the Dixie Fire.

The Dixie Fire started more than a week ago, just a couple of miles from the spot where the Camp Fire ignited, said Rick Carhart, a spokesman for Cal Fire in Butte County. That fire killed more than 80 people and all but leveled the remote town of Paradise.

“There really is so much — there’s no other word for it — PTSD,” Mr. Carhart said. “There’s so much anxiety.”

A stream of firefighting helicopters taking off from a nearby airport in recent days has flown over Magalia, a community that was also devastated by the Camp Fire. Residents there are out of the path of this year’s flames, Mr. Carhart said, but they are still afraid.

“They see a helicopter with a bucket attached,” he said. “And it’s, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’”

The two blazes also bear another chilling similarity: Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, said last week that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire. PG&E pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for its role in starting the Camp Fire.

So far, that level of destruction has been avoided this year.

Mr. Carhart said that crews have been making progress in controlling the Dixie Fire, and the weather has been more cooperative in recent days than fire officials had predicted. Nevertheless, the size and timing of the blaze — which he said is already the 15th-largest in California’s recorded history — point to a future in which fires won’t be limited to a single season.

“One of the most concerning things about it is how early in the year it is,” Mr. Carhart said.

Last year’s record-breaking wildfire season, during which millions of acres burned across California and the West, actually had a below-average start, he said, until widespread lightning strikes ignited tinder-dry vegetation in many remote areas.

Right now, Mr. Carhart said, the thousands of firefighters who are cutting fire lines, dousing hot spots or doing any of the other time-consuming, physically demanding work required of them, are looking at months passing before there’ is any significant rainfall, which heralds an end to the most intense fire activity.

In the past, he said, he might have expected a blaze like the Dixie Fire sometime in September — not July.

“We’re all kind of learning that fire season isn’t a three-month or six-month thing anymore,” he said.

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