Evacuation orders were widened Thursday as California’s biggest wildfire raged through the state’s tinder-dry landscape, laying waste to hundreds of square miles (kilometers). The Dixie Fire is already the sixth biggest in the state’s history, and was still spreading thanks to gusting winds and record-low humidity. This week it all-but wiped out the historic mining town of Greenville, a settlement of a few hundred people dating back to the mid-1800s Gold Rush.
“I’d say the majority of downtown Greenville is completely destroyed,” tweeted wildfire photographer Stuart Palley, sharing images of the devastation. The Dixie Fire — just one of a welter of blazes wracking the western United States — has been raging in the dry forests of northern California since mid-July, part of a global warming climate crisis that has brought sweltering heat and an alarming drought to the region.
It has now engulfed around 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers). Almost a fifth of that area was added overnight Wednesday into Thursday. The blaze is so big that it has been generating its own weather system.
“We did everything we could,” California fire department spokesman Mitch Matlow told reporters. “Sometimes it’s just not enough. Images taken by an AFP photographer in Greenville showed the fire’s heat had bent street lights to the ground, with only a few structures still standing.
A gas station, a hotel and a bar were destroyed, as well as many buildings that were more than a century old. The fire swept through the town on Wednesday afternoon, where the impact was devastating, said Jake Cagle, incident management team operations section chief.
He said firefighters were struggling with those not obeying evacuation orders, leading to their having to divert time and resources to rescue people in the path of the flames, even as they tried to deal with an extraordinary blaze.
“We have firefighters who are getting guns pulled out on them, because people don’t want to evacuate,” he said Thursday. It was a very tough day for all of our resources — there’s stuff out there that we didn’t want to see,” said Cagle.
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