- The Dixie Fire is now about one-third the size of Rhode Island.
- It’s also now the third-largest wildfire in California history.
- The fire obliterated much of the small town of Greenville, California, on Wednesday.
California’s Dixie Fire exploded in size overnight and is now the nation’s largest wildfire, officials said Friday.
The fire, which obliterated much of the small town of Greenville, California, on Wednesday, grew by 110 square miles overnight and is now 676 square miles in size. That’s an area about one-third the size of Rhode Island.
It’s also now the third-largest wildfire in California history and is only 35% contained. Fortunately, better weather conditions were expected to aid the fight against the blaze on Friday.
As hot, bone-dry, gusty weather hit California on Wednesday and Thursday, the fire raged through Greenville, a Gold Rush-era Sierra Nevada community of about 1,000, incinerating much of the downtown that included wooden buildings more than a century old.
Sheriff Todd Johns, who said he was a lifelong Greenville resident, said more than 100 homes were destroyed in the Greenville and Indian Falls areas.
“To the folks that have lost residences and businesses,” Johns said, “their life is now forever changed. And all I can tell you is I’m sorry.”
‘Catastrophically destroyed’:Dixie Fire wipes out California gold rush town of Greenville
Dan Kearns, a volunteer firefighter, said the winds came up strong Wednesday afternoon and blew the Dixie Fire into town under the type of deadly conditions that have in recent years caused widespread damage in California communities, including Paradise, Redding and Shasta County.
“I’m not going to say total (destruction) because not every structure is gone. But the town is catastrophically destroyed,” Kearns said.
No deaths or injuries were reported but the fire threatens more than 10,000 homes.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation, but Pacific Gas & Electric said in two separate reports to the California Public Utilities Commission that it may have been sparked when a tree fell on one of its power lines.
The questions around Dixie’s origin are only the latest in a string of disasters that has left the utility in bankruptcy and led to its criminal prosecution.
PG&E equipment was determined to be at fault for starting the 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed most of the Butte County community of Paradise and killed 85 people.
Earlier this year, Shasta and Tehama counties agreed to a $12 million settlement with PG&E to recover costs associated with last year’s deadly Zogg Fire after the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection blamed the utility’s equipment for causing the fire.
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Six of seven of the largest wildfires in California history have occurred during or since 2020, AccuWeather said. Compared to last year, California has experienced a 151% increase in the amount of acres burned. Fire season, which typically runs into October, is far from over.
The three-week-old Dixie Fire was one of 107 active, large fires burning in 14 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Most of the fires are in the West, where historic drought has left lands parched and ripe for ignition.
More than 23,700 wildland firefighters and support personnel are battling the blazes, some of which are as far east as Minnesota.
Heat waves and drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in America’s West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Contributing: The Associated Press; David Benda and Matt Brannon, The Redding Record Searchlight