‘We Lost Greenville’: Wildfire ravages California city

'We Lost Greenville': Wildfire ravages California city

Greenville, Calif. – A 3-week-old wildfire engulfed a small mountain town in Northern California, leveling most of its historic downtown and leaving blocks of homes in ashes, while a new wind raged Homes were also destroyed upon arrival as the crew prepared for another explosive run. Amidst dangerous weather on Thursday amid the flames.

The Dixie Fire, fed by bone-dry vegetation and speeds of 64-kmph, spread through the northern Sierra Nevada community of Greenville on Wednesday evening. A gas station, church, hotel, museum and bar were among the many fixtures in the city, which date back to the Gold Rush era of California and some of the structures were more than a century old.

“The fire burned down our entire city. Our historic buildings, families’ homes, small businesses and our children’s schools were completely destroyed,” Plumas County Supervisor Kevin Goss wrote on Facebook. The sheriff’s department said there was “extensive devastation throughout the area.”

“We lost Greenville tonight,” U.S. Representative Doug LaMalfa, representing the area, said in an emotional Facebook video. “There are just no words.”

As the north and east of the fire blazed Wednesday, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office issued an online warning to the city’s nearly 800 residents: “You are in imminent danger and you must go now!”

A similar warning was issued Thursday for residents of another small mountain community, Taylorsville, as the flames moved to the southeast. To the northwest, in the city of Chester, crews were guarding homes. Thousands remained subject to evacuation orders or warnings.

The massive fire that broke out on July 21 is the state’s largest current wildfire and blackened more than 1,305 square kilometers, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. The cause is being investigated, but Pacific Gas & Electric has said a spark may have been emanated when a tree fell on a power line.

Flames incinerate a home on Highway 89 as the Dixie Fire tears through the Greenville community of Plumas County, Calif., on August 4, 2021.

The fire was burning near the City of Paradise, which was largely destroyed in a 2018 wildfire that became the nation’s deadliest in at least a century and was blamed on PG&E Equipment.

Ken Donnell left Greenville on Wednesday, thinking he’d be back after a quick stint in a few cities. He could not return because of the flames. He said he now has clothes on his back and his old pickup truck. He is pretty sure that his office and home, along with the go-bags prepared by him, are gone.

Donnell remembers helping the victims of the devastating 2018 Camp Fire, in which nearly 100 friends lost their homes. “Now I have a thousand friends lose their homes a day,” he said. “We are all shocked.”

As of Thursday, the Dixie Fire had become the sixth largest fire in the state’s history, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Four of the state’s other five largest wildfires were all in 2020.

To the north, Lassen Volcano National Park was closed to all visitors.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths. Dozens of homes had already been burnt before the fire broke out on Wednesday.

“We did everything we could,” said fire spokesman Mitch Mattlow. “Sometimes that’s not enough.”

About 160 kilometers to the south, officials said 35 to 40 homes and other structures were burned in a fast-moving river fire Wednesday near Colfax, a town of about 2,000. In a matter of hours, it had ripped through about 10 square kilometers of dry brush and trees. According to Cal Fire, there was no control in Placer and Nevada counties and about 6,000 people were under evacuation orders.

Flames from the Dixie Fire devour a pickup truck on Highway 89, south of Greenville, in Plumas County, Calif., on August 5, 2021.

In Colfax, Jamie Brown eats breakfast at a downtown restaurant on Thursday morning, waiting to find out if his house is still standing.

He vacated his property near Rollins Lake on Wednesday, when “it looked like the whole city would burn down.” By Thursday, things had calmed down a bit, and he was hoping for the best.

“I think I’ll have a good breakfast before I lose my house,” he said. “If the wind keeps the fire on a different path then my house is perfect.”

Following firefighters’ progress earlier in the week, red flag weather conditions of high heat, low humidity and strong afternoon and evening winds flared up on Wednesday and were expected to be a continuing threat.

Officials said winds were expected to change direction several times on Thursday, putting pressure on firefighters in fire-prone areas that did not see activity for several days.

The trees, grass and brush were so dry that “if one embers landed, you’re virtually guaranteed to start a new fire,” said Mattlow.

And about 240 kilometers west of the Dixie Fire, the lightning-sparked McFarland Fire threatened remote homes along the Trinity River in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The fire was brought under control by only 7% after burning about 85 square kilometers of drought-stricken vegetation.

Similar risky weather was expected in Southern California, where heat advisories and warnings were issued for much of the week for interior valleys, mountains and deserts.

Heat waves and historic droughts linked to climate change have made it harder to fight wildfires in the US West. Scientists say climate change has made the region hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

The National Interagency Fire Center said more than 20,000 firefighters and aid workers were battling 97 large, active wildfires that spanned 7,560 square kilometers in 13 US states.