GREENVILLE (CBS SF) — Residents were returning Sunday to the burned-out remains of the Plumas County community of Greenville, to sift through the rubble of their homes in the wake of the destructive Dixie Fire which has grown to 721,298 acres and continues to challenge nearly 6,000 firefighters.
Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns attempted to brace the residents at his Saturday night briefing for the extent of devastation they would encounter.READ MORE: Afghan American Family Finally Returns to California; 'It's A Story Of Hope'
“We are starting to do escorts of residents into their properties in Greenville,” he said. “This is going to be a tough visit. I continue to drive through Greenville every day and it hasn’t gotten any easier from the first day.”
In the early days of the blaze, a wall of flames roared through the town of 1,100 people, laying ruin to everything in its path. Fortunately, the residents were able to escape without serious injury.
But the fire destroyed family homes, small town businesses and the dreams of those who lived there. Across the burn zone, the Dixie Fire has destroyed at least 670 homes.
To the north and to the east, the battle with the massive fire continued this weekend. The blaze was only at 35 percent containment.
On Saturday, Red Flag intensity winds whipped up the flames with gust topping 30 mph. Calmer conditions were in the forecast for Sunday.
“Let’s talk a little bit about the weather,” Chad Cook, Dixie Fire East Zone Operations Chief, said during his Sunday morning online briefing. “Yesterday we were under a Red Flag alert that brought southwest winds over the entire fire area at about 20-30 mph. In some places it even gusted to 35 mph. Which really pushed the fire around yesterday.”
Crews along the fire’s east edge focused their effort on two critical regions — the area between Janesville and Milford and the Genesee Valley.
Cook said the fire line to the south of Janesville was holding.
“Have we had some spots fires? Yes,” he said. “Have we had some slop over? Yes. But we have been able to pick them up.”
Firefighters were herding the flames into the burn scar left over from the 2019 Walker Fire, where the fuel was more sparse.
To the south, a finger of fire did rolled into the Shane Lane area north of Milford.
“On the bottom third of the slope below the escarpment, it (the fire) rolled out with the wind and made a run at several residences around the Shane Lane area,” he said. “I still don’t have the complete damage estimate.”READ MORE: Will The Oakland A's Strikeout With Fans Over Proposed 2021 Ticket Price Hikes?
Crews were also engaged in a firefight in Genesee Valley
“We have real squirrelly winds that happen down in the canyon,” he said. “Those squirrelly winds have a tendency to throw spots (spot fires). I’ve been talking about it for a few days, we had a spot come over mid-slope which hasn’t moved a lot. Still sitting around 100 acres.”
The Walker Fire was also playing a role in the Genesee Valley. Firefighters were building a ‘catcher mitt’ of dozer lines to also push the flames into the burn scar and deflect it away from East Quincy.
But, Cook said, it has been a challenging fight.
“We haven’t had a lot of of success with a lot of our fire lines (in the Genesee Valley) because of the critically dry fuels, the spot fires, the winds carrying embers into new locations,” he said. “It’s been a fight on multiple places on this fire.”
- Cal Fire Incident Report: Evacuations, Maps, Road Closures
- Evacuation Maps: Butte, Plumas County | Lassen County | Tehama County
- County Websites: Butte County | Plumas County | Lassen County | Tehama County
The Dixie Fire was the largest blaze in the state, but not the only one being fought by an army of 12,955 firefighters. There are 13 major wildfires currently burning in the state.
To north near Lake Tahoe, the Caldor Fire has already destroyed dozens of homes and had grown to nearly 100,000 acres by Sunday morning with zero containment.
Caltrans crews were maintaining the shutdown of a 46-mile stretch of Interstate 50, the main route between the state capital of Sacramento and Lake Tahoe on the Nevada border
The highway was closed after debris from the blaze fell onto the roadway and because of red flag warnings for 20- to 30 mph winds that could gust to 40 mph at times.
Over 1.5 million acres have already burned in the state, surpassing the acreage burned statewide at this point last year, which ended up setting the record. Now we’re entering a period when powerful winds have often driven the deadliest blazes.
“Here we are — it’s not the end of August and the size and distribution and the destruction of summer 2021 wildfires does not bode well for the next months,” said Bill Deverell, a University of Southern California history professor who teaches about fire in the West. “The suggestion of patterns across the last two decades in the West is deeply unsettling and worrisome: hotter, bigger, more fires.”
As a precaution, millions of acres of national forest in Northern California are being closed because of dangerous fire conditions.
The U.S. Forest Service announced that beginning Sunday it will close nine national forests from near Lake Tahoe at the Nevada border on the east all the way west to Six Rivers National Forest, which stretches north to the Oregon border and contains more than 1 million acres of land alone.
© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.