A wildfire tore through a historic mountain town in Northern California, leaving much of the downtown in ashes as crews braced for an additional explosive run of flames amid dangerous weather. The Dixie Fire, swollen by bone-dry vegetation and 40-mph gusts, raged through the northern Sierra Nevada town of Greenville Wednesday evening. A gasoline station , hotel and bar were among the various structures gutted within the town, which dates to California’s Gold Rush era and has some buildings quite a century old. It left “apocalyptic scenes in every direction,” said CBS News’ Bradley Blackburn. “We did everything we could,” fire spokesman Mitch Matlow said. “Sometimes it’s just not enough.”
As the fire grew, authorities issued a Facebook post warning the town’s approximately 800 residents: “You are in imminent danger and you want to leave now!” The three-week-old blaze was the state’s largest wildfire and had blackened overflow 435 square miles, burning dozens of homes before making its new run. Early within the week, some 5,000 firefighters had made progress on the blaze, saving some threatened homes, bulldozing pockets of unburned vegetation, and managing to surround a 3rd of the perimeter. On Wednesday, the hearth grew by thousands of acres and a further 4,000 people were ordered to evacuate, bringing nearly 26,500 people in several counties under evacuation orders, he said.
Red flag weather of high heat, low humidity and gusty afternoon and evening winds were expected to be a continued threat through Thursday evening. The Dixie Fire and a number of other others therein a part of the state “could see 30-40 mph wind gusts for a minimum of 6 hours” Thursday. Some could see those wind gusts for as many as 10 hours before things settle down a touch Thursday night,” said CBS News weather producer David Parkinson. The trees, grass, and brush were so dry that “if ember land, you’re virtually bound to start a replacement fire,” Matlow said.
The blaze 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 fireplace “critically erratic” so it’s hard to predict the direction of growth, he added. About 150 miles to the west, the lightning-sparked McFarland Fire threatened remote homes along the Trinity River within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. the hearth was only 5% contained after burning through nearly 25 square miles of drought-stricken vegetation.
Similar risky weather was expected across Southern California, where heat advisories and warnings were issued for interior valleys, mountains and deserts for much of the week. This fire season is on target to be California’s worst ever, CBS News’ Blackburn points out. Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, “Five-hundred-eighty-thousand acres have burned. Put that in perspective: Last year, it had been about 260,000 acres, so quite double the acres burned thus far year so far, and we’re just, you know, we’re just getting started.”
Heatwaves and historic drought tied to global climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in America’s West. Scientists say global climate change has made the region much warmer and drier within the past 30 years and can still make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. More than 20,000 firefighters and support personnel were battling 97 large, active wildfires covering 2,919 square miles in 13 U.S. states, the National Interagency Fire Center said.
The CBSN documentary “Bring Your Own Brigade” captures the horror and heroism of the deadliest week of wildfires in California history and explores the causes and solutions of a worldwide crisis that’s quite literally burning our world to the bottom. Watch “Bring Your Own Brigade” in theaters starting Transfiguration , and stream it on the CBS News app or Paramount+ on August 20.