California wildfire now second-worst in state history

Dixie Fire covers an area larger than Los Angeles; 3 people reported missing

A charred vehicle destroyed by the Dixie Fire in front of the remains of a structure situated near Highway 89 in Greenville, California, on Sunday.
A charred vehicle destroyed by the Dixie Fire in front of the remains of a structure situated near Highway 89 in Greenville, California, on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • The monstrous Dixie Fire in northern California has grown to become the second-largest wildfire in state history, the authorities said, with three people reported missing and thousands fleeing the advancing flames.

As at Sunday, the fire had destroyed 187,562ha, up from the previous day's 181,187ha. It now covers an area larger than Los Angeles.

The Dixie blaze is the largest active wildfire in the United States, but one of only 11 major wildfires in California. Over the weekend, it surpassed the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire, making it the second-worst fire in state history.

On Saturday, Governor Gavin Newsom visited the charred remains of Greenville, expressing his "deep gratitude" to the teams fighting the flames. He said the authorities had to devote more resources to managing forests and preventing fires.

But he added that "the dries are getting a lot drier, it is hotter than it has ever been... we need to acknowledge just straight up these are climate-induced wildfires".

The Dixie Fire, which on Saturday left three firefighters injured, remained 21 per cent contained yesterday, unchanged from the day before, the CalFire website reported. Crews estimate the blaze, which began on July 13, will not be extinguished for two weeks.

Weak winds and higher humidity have provided some succour to firefighters, but they are bracing themselves for higher temperatures expected to exceed 38 deg C in the coming days.

Heavy smoke was making driving hazardous for fire crews in some areas, and steep trails also made access difficult.

The state's eight largest wildfires have all erupted since December 2017.

Thousands of residents have fled the area, many finding temporary housing - even living in tents - and often unsure whether their homes have survived.

The Dixie Fire has already destroyed about 400 structures - gutting Greenville - and CalFire said workers and equipment were being deployed to save homes in the small town of Crescent Mills, 5km south-east of Greenville.

Despite repeated evacuation orders from the authorities, some residents have refused to flee, preferring to try to fight the fire on their own rather than leave their property.

A preliminary investigation has suggested the Dixie Fire was started when a tree fell on a power cable owned by regional utility Pacific Gas & Company, a private operator that was earlier blamed for the Camp Fire in 2018, which killed 86 people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2021, with the headline 'California wildfire now second-worst in state history'. Subscribe