The blaze became the largest single fire in California’s recorded history, surpassing last year’s Creek Fire in the Central Valley. It’s about half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused 2020 fires across seven counties that were fought together and that state officials consider California’s largest wildfire overall.
The fire’s cause was under investigation. The Pacific Gas & Electric utility has said it may have been sparked when a tree fell on one of its power lines. A federal judge ordered PG&E on Friday to give details by Aug. 16 about the equipment and vegetation where the fire started.
A burned church rests in heavy smoke during the Dixie fire in Greenville, California on August 6, 2021.Cooler temperatures and higher humidity slowed the spread of the fire, and temperatures topped 90 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the triple-digit highs recorded earlier in the week. Dense smoke cover helped too, shading the area and tamping down the fire growth but also making it harder for crews to maneuver on the ground and in the air.
But the blaze and its neighboring fires, within several hundred miles of each other, posed an ongoing threat.
Studebaker sought shelter at an evacuation center before setting up her tent in a friend’s front yard.
She is counting on returning to her job if the restaurant where she works stays open. Her boss also evacuated when the town of Chester, northwest of Greenville, lost power and the smoke was so thick that it made it hard to breathe.
Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists have said climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Near the Klamath National Forest, firefighters kept a close watch on small communities that were ordered evacuated in the path of the Antelope Fire, which earlier threw up flames 100 feet (30 meters) high as it blackened bone-dry grass, brush and timber. It was just 20% contained.
Further northwest, about 500 homes scattered in and around Shasta-Trinity National Forest remained threatened by the Monument Fire and others by the McFarland Fire, both started by lightning storms last week, fire officials said.
About a two-hour drive south from the Dixie Fire, crews had surrounded nearly half of the River Fire that broke out Wednesday near the town of Colfax and destroyed 68 homes and other buildings. Evacuation orders for thousands of people in Nevada and Placer counties were lifted Friday. Three people, including a firefighter, were injured, authorities said.
Smoke from the fires blanketed Northern California and western Nevada, causing air quality to deteriorate to very unhealthy and, at times, hazardous levels.
Air quality advisories extended through California’s San Joaquin Valley and as far as the San Francisco Bay Area to Denver, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, where residents were urged to keep their windows and doors shut. Denver’s air quality ranked among the worst in the world Saturday afternoon.