TAYLORSVILLE, Plumas County (CBS SF) — Fire crews battling the massive Dixie Fire burning across five Northern California counties will be using drones to drop fire balls from the sky to help keep flames from reaching the community of Taylorsville.

On Monday, East Zone Operations Section Chief Jeff Surber said Taylorville, which has seen flames approach from three sides over the past few weeks, is currently being threatening by a spot fire from the Genesee Valley that has “slopped over” a ridgetop and down into steep, avalanche terrain largely inaccessible to crews and too dangerous to set backfires.

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“So instead of doing that what we’ve done is construct a dozer line here above Taylorsville with the expectation that over time [the wildfire] will move and it’ll align to a point where we’re ready to burn [along the dozer line] to protect the community of Taylorsville,” said Surber.

Dixie Fire backs slowly down near Taylorsville, August 28, 2021. (US Forest Service)

Surber said the fire crews expect they will be able to deploy drones that can drop a line of fire across a path to generate a fire break.

“It’s a drone that drops what we call ‘ping pong balls’ which are incendiary devices that are very small,” he said. “We plan to burn this in the nighttime in the coming days when we have access to that equipment, and when the time is right and the winds are right, we plan to go ahead and burn that in a controlled method to tie off and protect Taylorsville.”

Until then, Surber said crews will continue using helicopters to dump water along the fire area southwest of Taylorsville to keep the flames at bay.

“At the end of shift last night it was not moving,” said Surber. “It’s not going to go away. We fully expect that it’s going to continue to be a problem area for us, but right now it’s held in check.”

Other spot fires have crossed fire lines to the south along Grizzly Ridge and crews were bulldozing new contingency lines ahead of any additional spot fires that could threaten communities along Highway 70 such as Greenhorn, Sloat and Cromberg. Other contingency lines were being built north of Lake Davis to protect  homes.

In Butte County, the sheriff’s office on Monday was able end evacuation warnings in the county Monday, including for areas of Jonesville, Butte Meadow, lower Butte Meadows, Snag Lake and Lake Philbrook.

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As of Monday morning, the Dixie Fire had burned 771,183 acres, more than 1,200 square miles in Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, and Tehama counties. It is the second-largest wildfire in California history.

More than 1,200 structures, including nearly 700 homes, have been destroyed since the fire began on July 14 above the Cresta Dam in the Feather River Canyon area of the Sierra-Cascades region. It is currently 48% contained.

Like with the Caldor Fire further south, firefighters were watching the wildfire closely on Monday as a Red Flag Warning is set to go into effect. Wind gusts and low relative humidity are expected through most of Tuesday night.

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