September 18, 2021

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Dixie Fire Update: Buildings Burn In Canyondam; Fire Advance Forces Lassen Park Closure; 4 Missing In Plumas County – CBS San Francisco

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GREENVILLE, Plumas County (CBS SF) — The Dixie Fire continued its advance toward the eastern shore of Lake Almanor Thursday evening, burning structures in the rural community of Canyondam.

Kyle Jacobson, the east zone incident commander, said the battle had moved from Greenville to the Canyondam area.

READ MORE: Update: Dixie Fire Tops 432,000 Acres; Largest Current Wildfire In U.S.; 4 Missing In Plumas County

“We do have fire in Canyondam,” he said at the Thursday night briefing. “We have several spot fires in the area. We do have engines, crews and dozers in that area, doing everything they can, trying to prevent further spread.”

Mike Watner from the Chico Fire Department didn’t mince words.

“I’ve been fighting fire for 25 years and this is the most extreme fire behavior I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.

Social media was filled with images of the devastation caused by the flames.

At the same briefing, Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns said there were initially 10 people unaccounted for in the fire. That list had dwindled down to 4 by Thursday evening.

He said the Dixie Fire has destroyed “well over 100 homes” and was a continuing threat to hundreds of others.

Winds, terrain, bone-dry vegetation has made it a difficult 24 hours for residents and firefighters in the east zone of the fire.

In an emotional Facebook posting, local Congressman Doug LaMalfa summed up the extent of the devastation — “We lost Greenville tonight.”

At sunrise, much of the community of 1,129 residents had been reduced to smoldering rubble. Fire crews were still extinguishing flames.

The fire, which started on July 14, grew by 50,000 acres overnight to 322,502 acres. It is 35% contained — mostly along the southern and western edges — and is currently among the top 10 wildfires in California history.

The flames marched into the Lassen Volcanic National Park on Thursday morning, forcing rangers to evacuate campers and shut down access.

“The Dixie Fire currently is active on the east side of the park,” according to a post on the park’s website. “The entire park is closed to all uses to allow for firefighter access.”

New evacuation orders were also issued by the Lassen County Sheriff for Clear Creek, Westwood, and the Pine Town area.

PHOTOS: Dixie Fire Destroys Homes, Businesses In Greenville

To the east, the massive fire began ripping through Greenville around 4 p.m. The downtown area was leveled, homes were destroyed.

California Incident Management operations section chief Jake Cagle said Thursday firefighters have encountered people who not only refused to evacuate but also have brandished weapons at fire crews trying to get them to evacuate.

A gas station, hotel and bar were among many structures gutted in the town which dates to California’s Gold Rush era and has some buildings more than a century old.

“We did everything we could,” fire spokesman Mitch Matlow said. “Sometimes it’s just not enough.”

READ MORE: Free Agent Andre Iguodala Returning To Golden State Warriors

Raw Video: Drive Through Of Greenville Devastation

At his morning briefing, Mike Wink, operations chief for the west zone of the fire, said the blaze’s acceleration fueled by Red Flag wind gusts on the north edge Wednesday grew to as much as 1/2 mile an hour.

“When it (the fire) traveled to the north in the last 24 hours, it sometimes traveled 1/2 mile an hour,” he said. “So in your car, you’re saying that’s not very fast. But 1/2 mile an hour of the fire progressing to the north, it moved over 14 miles yesterday. So that put a lot of fire activity in a large area for first responders.”

Flames did reach the town of Chester.

“It got to the water feature called the Big Ditch,” Wink said. “Then it got to the airport, then it got to the outskirts of town and then it burned around both sides of the town. One of the things first responders had to deal with were residents who chose not to evacuate.”

Raw Video: Dixie Fire Flames Roar Into Greenville

Sheriff deputies and firefighters were able to gather those residents in a temporary ‘safe refuge’ at a local baseball field.

“Spot fires did occur in the town,” Wink said. “First responders were there and put those spot fires out. There was fire all around the town, they were in there fighting to keep it out of town.”

Firefighters also kept the flames from heavily damaging a large mill complex outside of town. Re-enforcements from nearby Susanville surrounded the mill. An outbuilding did burn.

“It’s not over at the mill, it’s not over in Chester,” Wink said Thursday morning. “With the wind change today…The wind is going to change today and come from the west. First responders have been briefed. It’s very hazardous. It’s Red Flag. Conditions are very extremely. Our probability of the embercast starting a new fire is 99 out of 100…It’s going to be a firefight again up in Chester.”

DIXIE FIRE: 

Dawn Garofalo fled with a dog and two horses from a friend’s property near Greenville, and watched the soaring cloud grow from the west side of Lake Almanor.

“There’s only one way in and one way out,” she said. “I didn’t want to be stuck up there if the fire came through.”

Strong winds were fueling the fire’s advance near Canyon Dam where some residents were trapped, Cagle said.

As the flames approached, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Department took to social media, pleading with residents to get out now.

“If you are still in the Greenville area, you are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now!!” the post read. “Evacuate to the south to Quincy. If you remain, emergency responders may not be able to assist you.”

ALSO READ: How To Help Victims Of Dixie Fire

The fire’s advance also triggered new evacuations in Lassen and Tehama counties Wednesday evening. In Lassen County, an evacuation order was issued for the unpopulated area south of Mountain Meadows Reservoir from Hamilton Branch waterway east to the Lassen/Plumas County line.

An additional 4,000 people were ordered to evacuate, bringing nearly 26,500 people in several counties under evacuation orders.

Red flag weather conditions of high heat, low humidity and gusty afternoon and evening winds were expected to be a continued threat.

Winds were expected to change direction multiple times on Thursday, putting pressure on firefighters at sections of the fire that haven’t seen activity in several days.

The trees, grass and brush were so dry that “if an ember lands, you’re virtually guaranteed to start a new fire,” fire spokesman Mitch Matlow said.

The Dixie Fire was running parallel to a canyon area that served as a chimney, making it so hot that it created enormous pyrocumulus columns of smoke. These clouds bring chaotic winds, making a fire “critically erratic” so it’s hard to predict the direction of growth, he added.

A strike team from the Bay Area has been up on the Dixie Fire for almost two weeks that includes firefighters from Alameda County, Oakland, Hayward and Fremont.

Battalion chief Paige Bowie with the Alameda County Fire Department helps coordinate the strike team which is five, fully-staffed fire engines and team leaders — a crew of more than 20 firefighters.

“We have some very experienced crews up there who have seen a lot of fire in their years and … extreme fire behavior is what we’re seeing now, this year and last, and I think the Dixie Fire is indicative of that.”

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KPIX 5’s Katie Nielsen contributed to this report
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