5K+ firefighters battle 'explosive growth' at Dixie Fire

The Northern California blaze now encompasses 253,052 acres – an area eight times the size of San Francisco


Amelia Davidson
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The massive Dixie Fire roared back to life heading into Tuesday, causing officials to issue new evacuation orders and ending a period of relative calm at the fire.

And with hot and dry conditions forecast for Tuesday, officials do not expect the growth to slow just yet.

A firefighter passes a burning home as the Dixie Fire flares in Plumas County, Calif.
A firefighter passes a burning home as the Dixie Fire flares in Plumas County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

"Firefighters worked through the night to protect structures in the Greenville area after the explosive fire growth experienced during late afternoon yesterday," wrote Cal Fire in a Tuesday morning incident update. "Today, dry, hot and windy conditions are expected and the forecast calls for the return of active fire behavior."

In its morning incident report Tuesday, the state fire agency said the fire encompassed 253,052 acres (396 square miles) — an area eight times the size of the city of San Francisco. The fire is California's largest this season and the 11th-largest in state history by acres burned.

The fire increased by around 4,500 acres between Monday morning and Tuesday morning and containment remained stagnant at 35%.

Just over 5,100 firefighters are battling the blaze, which ignited July 14 above the Cresta Dam in Feather River Canyon in the burn scar of the deadly 2018 Camp Creek fire. Crews are fighting the fire in two zones: the east, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and the west, which is managed by Cal Fire.

Over the weekend, crews increased containment by 11 percentage points, taking advantage of relatively calm weather. The weekend progress allowed crews to hold fire lines on the southwestern side of the fire despite deteriorating weather conditions Monday, keeping the blaze away from populated areas of Butte County.

But the eastern side of the fire expanded rapidly, causing officials to issue new evacuation orders Monday evening in Plumas County for towns on the northeast side of the fire. On Tuesday morning, officials issued new evacuation orders in the Lake Almanor area — a region that had just come out from under evacuation orders as recently as Sunday.

The new orders add on to a series of evacuation orders and road closures already in place across Plumas County and northeast Butte County.

According to interagency fire behavior analyst Dennis Burns, the fire spotted up to a mile Monday evening, not just in the active east zone but also in the west zone. Burns said the behavior does not bode well for the situation on Tuesday.

"We're looking at potentially another large fire growth day," Burns said in a Tuesday morning incident update.

A total of 67 structures have been destroyed by the fire, and the Associated Press reported that the small town of Indian Falls accounted for more than half of those losses. Cal Fire estimated Tuesday morning that over 7,100 structures remain threatened by the fires, which is more than double their same estimate from Monday morning.

Officially, the fire's cause remains under investigation. But Pacific Gas and Electric Co. disclosed shortly after the fire began that its equipment may have played a role in the wildfire's ignition. On Monday, PG&E told public regulators that its equipment might also be to blame for the Fly Fire, which ignited east of the Dixie Fire on July 22 and later merged with the blaze.

Trinity County wildfires

Large thunderstorms Thursday sparked multiple blazes in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Of over eight blazes that began, two have grown to a significant size: the McFarland Fire and the Monument Fire.

The McFarland Fire ignited in Trinity County south of Highway 36 near Wildwood. The fire grew to 15,925 acres Tuesday morning and is 5% contained, burning on the border of Trinity and Shasta counties.

The blaze more than doubled in size between Monday and Tuesday. Officials say that expansion may continue through Wednesday, although crews could potentially be aided by the August Complex Fire burn scar from 2020.

"The McFarland Fire grew rapidly yesterday with moderate to high fire intensity. ... Fire growth doubled what the fire behavior models predicted," wrote U.S. Forest Service Officials in a Tuesday morning update. "The combination of hot temperatures and very low (relative humidity) will create critical fire weather conditions over the fire through Wednesday."

An evacuation order is in place for the town of Wildwood.

The Monument Fire, also burning in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest south of Del Loma, grew to 6,057 acres Tuesday morning with 0% containment.

The fire more than doubled in size from Monday to Tuesday morning, prompting the Trinity County Sheriff's Office to issue an evacuation order Monday night for the areas of Big Bar and Del Loma.

In a social media update Tuesday morning, U.S. Forest Service Officials said the blaze crossed the Trinity River and Highway 299 Monday evening and then burned actively through the night. Crews have also seen significant spotting from the fire.

Officials expect hot and dry weather patterns to fuel the fire's expansion through at least Wednesday, but said that cooler temperatures could "potentially bring some relief" in the later half of the week.

Tamarack Fire

The Tamarack Fire, once a major threat responsible for the destruction of several structures in California and Nevada, appears to be mostly under control.

The fire has charred 68,696 acres near Markleeville and over the Nevada state line as of Monday night. The fire expanded minimally over the last 72 hours and crews bumped containment up to 82%.

Jurisdiction over the fire changed hands Monday night, with the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team handing over control to the Sierra Front Type 3 Team. The Rocky Mountain team managed the fire since it first expanded rapidly in mid-July.

"You folks have proven to be very resilient," said Dan Dallas, the incident commander of the Rocky Mountain team, in a last address to crews and surrounding residents. "The community really pulled together like they need to do in times like this."

The Tamarack Fire was sparked by lightning July 4 and remained small and mostly inactive for weeks as the Forest Service decided to let it burn in the remote Mokelumne Wilderness. By mid-July, winds whipped up the blaze, and it burned into Markleeville, eventually pushing east through Alpine County into Nevada.

Alpine County officials have confirmed that at least 15 structures were destroyed by the fire. In Douglas County, Nevada, preliminary surveys showed 13 structures damaged or destroyed south of Leviathan Mine Road.

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(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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