Another wildfire raced through a small Northern California forest town Tuesday, Aug. 17, destroying dozens of houses as dangerously dry and windy weather fueled other massive fires, prompting the nation’s largest utility to cut off electricity to 51,000 people.
Pacific Gas & Electric stated Tuesday evening that it has begun enforcing the shutoffs as a precaution to prevent gusty winds from damaging power lines and setting fires in a tinder-dry region that has already been ravaged by a series of wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes. The utility said the precautionary shutoffs could last into Wednesday afternoon.
Winds sparked by the arrival of a new weather system Monday afternoon brought the massive Dixie Fire to within 8 miles of Susanville, a town of approximately 18,000 people, while to the southeast, the Caldor Fire raged through Grizzly Flats, a town of about 1,200 people, AP reported.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for El Dorado County after the Caldor Fire in the Sierra Nevada had burned approximately 50 square miles (129 square kilometers), injuring two persons and destroying 50 homes in the town of Grizzly Flats. The nearby Dixie Fire has also destroyed more than 600 homes.
Spot fires erupted to the east, south of the small community of Janesville, where people have been ordered to evacuate.
Only a few homes remained standing in Grizzly Flats, where streets were littered with downed power wires and poles. Only chimneys could be visible above the wreckage, themselves reduced to smoldering ash and twisted metal. In addition, a post office and an elementary school were also destroyed.
The Dixie Fire, which has been blazing for a month, was the largest of over 100 massive fires raging across more than a dozen Western states, previously scorched by drought and hot, dry weather. Susanville is the county seat of Lassen County and the largest city that the Dixie Fire, named for the route where it began, has approached since it erupted last month.
Since igniting on July 13, the Dixie Fire has burned over 940 square miles (2,434 square kilometers) in the northern Sierra Nevada and the southern Cascades, eventually merging with a smaller wildfire. It is less than one third contained.
Mark Brunton, an operations section chief, said that residents were cautioned to be prepared to evacuate, and many resources were deployed to the Susanville area.
“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 said in an online briefing.
The Caldor Fire broke out in El Dorado County on Saturday before being fueled by winds about 10 square miles (26 square kilometers).
According to the National Fire Interagency Center, there were two dozen fires burning in Montana and nearly 50 more in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
Authorities in Montana ordered evacuations for several remote communities in north-central Montana on Tuesday as strong winds pushed a major wildfire closer to residential areas.
According to KOJM, the required evacuation included Lodge Pole, a community of roughly 300 people on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, and Zortman, a former mining town of about two dozen people.
Ongoing damage surveys have reported more than 1,100 buildings have been destroyed, including 630 residences, and more than 16,000 structures are still under threat.