United States: in California, forest fires again fueled by strong winds

The fires in California worsened on Tuesday, fueled by high winds. The “Dixie” fire, the second largest wildfire on record in California, was joined by another “Caldor” fire, smaller but on Tuesday became one of the main threats in this western American state. 

The fire situation in California worsened on Tuesday, August 17, as high winds fueled the large “Dixie” fire and pushed the flames of another blaze towards a mountain hamlet.

Many power lines were cut as a precaution.

The “Dixie” fire, which is already the second largest forest fire on record in California, has been raging since mid-July in the Sierra Nevada region, northeast of San Francisco.

According to the California Department of Forests and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), it had already burned 244,430 hectares of forest on Tuesday morning.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire burned almost 13,760 hectares in a single day, between Monday and Tuesday, its largest increase in 24 hours since its outbreak.

Around 1,200 homes and buildings were destroyed in the fire and 16,000 others are considered to be at risk, which could lead to the evacuation of between 12,000 and 28,000 people.

“Caldor”, another forest fire 

The “Dixie” fire is by far the largest of the wildfires to ravage the western United States this summer. But another, smaller wildfire became one of California’s top threats on Tuesday.

This fire, dubbed “Caldor” and located about 100 kilometers from Sacramento, spread to the mountain hamlet of Grizzly Flats in El Dorado County.

According to Cal Fire, two civilians were seriously injured during the hasty evacuation of the area early Tuesday and an unknown number of buildings were destroyed by the flames.

According to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, material losses in the village, which has a population of 1,200, include an elementary school, a church and a post office.

According to the California governor’s office of emergency services, the total number of people displaced by the “Caldor” fire stood at more than 11,000 on Tuesday evening, and mandatory evacuation orders were posted for several communities, including Pollock Pines and Somerset.

In the face of high winds, the power and gas company Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) carried out deliberate blackouts in northern California to reduce the risk of fire.

According to the company, 51,000 homes and businesses are affected by these power cuts. PG&E expects the wind to ease Wednesday, which could restore power within 24 hours.+

Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric announced it had begun shutting off power to some 51,000 customers in small portions of 18 northern counties to prevent winds from knocking down or fouling power lines and sparking new blazes.

The utility said the precautionary shutoffs were focused in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the North Coast, the North Valley and the North Bay mountains and could last into Wednesday afternoon.

Very few homes were left standing in Grizzly Flats, where streets were littered with downed power lines and poles. Houses were reduced to smoldering ash and twisted metal with only chimneys rising above the ruins. A post office and elementary school were also destroyed.

Two people with serious or severe injuries were airlifted to hospitals from the Grizzly Flats area, fire officials said.

Derek Shaves and Tracy Jackson were helping their friend salvage food and other supplies from the Grizzly Pub & Grub, a business in the evacuation zone that wasn’t touched by the blaze.

Shaves said he visited Grizzly Flats Tuesday and saw his home and most of the houses in his neighborhood had been destroyed by the fire.

“It’s a pile of ash,” he said. “Everybody on my block is a pile of ash and every block that I visited — but for five separate homes that were safe — was totally devastated.”

At the Dixie Fire, numerous resources were put into the Susanville area, where residents were warned to be ready to evacuate, said Mark Brunton, an operations section chief.

“It’s not out of play, and the next 24 hours are going to be crucial to watch as to what the fire is going to do there,” he told an online briefing.

To the east, spot fires became established south of the small community of Janesville, which had been ordered evacuated. Some structures were lost there — images captured by The Associated Press showed a home consumed by flames — but a surge of firefighters was able to herd the fire around the majority of the town, Brunton said.

The Dixie Fire, which had burned some 600 homes, is the largest of the major wildfires burning in Western U.S. states that have seen historic drought and weeks of high temperatures and dry weather that have left trees, brush and grasslands as flammable as tinder. Climate change has made the U.S. West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.

Susanville is the seat of Lassen County and the largest city that the Dixie Fire, named for the road where it started, has approached since it broke out last month. The former Sierra Nevada logging and mining town has two state prisons, a nearby federal lockup and a casino.

Ash fell from the advancing fire, and a police statement urged residents “to be alert and be ready to evacuate” if the fire threatens the city.

The Dixie Fire has scorched more than 940 square miles (2,434 square kilometers) in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades since it ignited on July 13 and eventually merged with a smaller blaze. It’s less than a third contained.

Investigations are continuing, but PG&E has notified utility regulators that the Dixie and Fly fires may have been caused by trees falling into its power lines. The Dixie Fire began near the town of Paradise, which was devastated by a 2018 wildfire ignited by PG&E equipment during strong winds. Eighty-five people died.

Ongoing damage surveys have counted more than 1,100 buildings destroyed, including 630 homes, and more than 16,000 structures remained threatened. Numerous evacuation orders were in effect.

Near the Caldor Fire, people were offering assistance to evacuees, including the four-footed kind. Susan Collins of Placerville used her horse trailer to help move two horses Tuesday after offering help on an El Dorado County Facebook page.

“I know not everybody is prepared when something like this happens, and my purpose in life is to be there to help people,” she said.

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