“We Lost Greenville”: Dixie Fire becomes third largest wildland fire in state history, decimates California Town

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On Wednesday, the fire ravaged the small Californian mountain town of Greenville, which Eva Gorman said was a place of community and strong character, where neighbors volunteered to move furniture, colorful flower baskets have brightened up the main street and writers, musicians, mechanics and chicken farmers mingled.

Now it’s ashes.

As hot, dry and gusty weather hit California, the fire raged through the community of approximately 1,000 people in the Sierra Nevada during the Gold Rush, incinerating much of the town center which included wooden buildings over a century old.

The winds were expected to calm down and change direction before the weekend, but this good news came too late for Gorman.

“It’s just completely devastating. We’ve lost our home, my business, our whole downtown is gone, ”said Gorman, who heeded evacuation warnings and left town with her husband a week and a half ago on the approach. of the Dixie fire.

She managed to snap a few photos on the wall, her favorite jewelry, and some important documents, but couldn’t help but think about the family treasures left behind.

“My grandmother’s dining chairs, my grand aunt’s bed from Italy. There is a photo that I always visualize in my mind of my son when he was 2 years old. He’s 37 now, ”she said. “At first you think, ‘It’s okay, I’ve got the negatives.’ And then you realize, ‘Oh. No, I don’t.

Authorities had yet to estimate how many buildings were destroyed, but Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns estimated Thursday that “well over” 100 homes had burned down in and near the city.

“My heart is broken over what happened there,” said Johns, a longtime Greenville resident.

Authorities also closed Lassen Volcanic National Park on Thursday due to the explosive forest fire.

About a two-hour drive south, officials said around 100 homes and other buildings burned in the river fire that broke out quickly on Wednesday near Colfax, a town of about 2 000 inhabitants. There was no lockdown and about 6,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Placer and Nevada counties, state fire officials said.

Firefighters inspect a decimated downtown area as the Dixie blaze burns down in Greenville, Calif. On August 4, 2021. On the same day, officials in northern California notified residents of two communities on their way to the city. fire to evacuate immediately as high winds whipped the flames forward. The fire burned down dozens of homes and businesses in Greenville. (Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images)

But the Dixie Fire was particularly destructive. It raged Wednesday night in the town of Greenville, in the northern Sierra Nevada. A gas station, hotel, and bar were among many destroyed facilities in the city, which dates back to the era of California’s gold rush and some structures are over a century old.

The blaze exploded Wednesday and Thursday through wood, grass and brush so dry that a fire official described it as “essentially close to combustion”. Dozens of houses had already burned down before the flames made new paths.

No deaths or injuries were reported, but the blaze continued to threaten more than 10,000 homes.

“We lost Greenville tonight,” said US Representative Doug LaMalfa, who represents the region, in a moving video on Facebook Wednesday night. “There are just no words to explain how we in government have not been able to do the job. We are going to fight even harder.”

Firefighters also continue to fight the Fire River near the town of Colfax at the foot of the Sierra. The fire burned dozens of structures on Wednesday and forced thousands of people to take refuge in hastily set up evacuation centers.

“Within minutes it turned into a big plume of white smoke and you started getting alerts from the sheriff’s office, didn’t you?” Said Karen WIlliams, who lived near the place where the river fire started.

The fire moved quickly, she said. Now she and her friend Sandy Mallory are staying in a friend’s campervan and may not be able to get home until August 15.

Claudia Schwendeman lived in the community of Chicago Park, where the River Fire burned houses down on Wednesday. She says she lost her home insurance a few years ago, like many residents of fire-prone areas. Now she’s on a state-backed plan.

“And yes, now I’m playing doubles for less coverage. So it’s tough for everyone, especially the good guys. But when you’re on a fixed income it gets a little tough,” Schwendeman said.

Meanwhile, evacuations continue as the Dixie fire spreads. The north and east sides of the blaze exploded and the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office released a Facebook post warning the town’s 800 or so residents, “[Y]You are in imminent danger and you MUST go now !! “

A similar warning was issued Thursday for residents of another small mountain community, Taylorsville, as the flames moved southeast.

Battalion Commander Sergio Mora watches the Dixie fire burn in downtown Greenville, Calif. On August 4, 2021. On the same day, officials in northern California alerted residents of two communities on the way. from the fire immediately evacuate the strong winds.  whipped the flames forward.  The fire burned down dozens of homes and businesses in Greenville.
Battalion Commander Sergio Mora watches the Dixie fire burn in downtown Greenville, Calif. On August 4, 2021. On the same day, officials in northern California notified residents of two communities on the way. from the fire immediately evacuate the strong winds. whipped the flames forward. The fire burned down dozens of homes and businesses in Greenville. (Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images)

To the northwest, teams were protecting houses in the town of Chester. Residents were among thousands on evacuation orders or warnings in several counties, but no injuries or deaths were immediately reported.

Margaret Elysia Garcia, an artist and writer who stayed in Southern California while waiting for the fire to be extinguished, watched a video of her office in downtown Greenville ablaze. The desk contained all the journals she had written in since second grade and a manual edition of a novel on her grandfather’s wheeled desk.

“We are in shock. It’s not that we didn’t think it could happen to us, ”she said. “At the same time, it took our whole city. “

Firefighters had to deal with people reluctant to leave on Wednesday. Their refusals meant firefighters were spending precious time loading people into cars to get them out, said Jake Cagle, head of the incident management operations section.

“We have firefighters shooting guns at them because people don’t want to evacuate,” he said.

The Dixie Fire had consumed about 432,813 acres, according to an estimate released Friday morning. That’s 676 square miles – moving the blaze from the sixth-largest wildfire on record in the state to its third-largest overnight.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but Pacific Gas & Electric said it may have been triggered when a tree fell on one of the utility’s power lines. No injuries or deaths were reported.

The blaze occurred near the town of Paradise, which was largely destroyed in a 2018 wildfire that became the country’s deadliest in at least a century and was blamed on the PG&E equipment.

Weather and towering clouds of smoke produced by the blaze’s intense and erratic winds on Thursday forced firefighters to struggle to put firefighters into changing hotspots.

“It’s wreaking havoc. The winds change direction on us every few hours, ”said Captain Sergio Arellano, a spokesperson for the fire department.

Ken Donnell left Greenville on Wednesday, believing he would be back after a quick run through a few towns, but was unable to return as the flames spread. All he has now are the clothes on his back and his old van, he said. He’s pretty sure his office and home, along with a bag he had prepared for evacuation, are gone.

Donnell recalled helping victims of the devastating 2018 campfire, in which around 100 friends lost their homes.

“Now I have a thousand friends who lose their homes in a day,” he said.

As of Thursday, the Dixie fire had become the sixth largest in state history, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Four of the other five largest fires in the state occurred in 2020.

Buildings burn as the Dixie Fire rips through downtown Greenville, Calif. On August 4, 2021. On the same day, officials in northern California warned residents of two communities on their way to the fire to evacuate immediately as high winds lashed the flames. . The fire burned down dozens of homes and businesses in Greenville. (Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images)

Dozens of houses had already burned down before the flames resumed on Wednesday. The US Forest Service said early reports show firefighters have saved about a quarter of structures in Greenville.

“We did everything we could,” said firefighter spokesman Mitch Matlow. “Sometimes that’s just not enough.”

About 100 miles to the south, officials said between 35 and 40 homes and other buildings burned in the river fire that broke out early Wednesday near Colfax, a town of about 2,000. In a matter of hours, he tore up nearly 4 square miles of dry brush and trees. There was no lockdown and about 6,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Placer and Nevada counties, Cal Fire said.

In Colfax, Jamie Brown had lunch Thursday at a downtown restaurant while waiting to see if his house was still standing.

He evacuated his property near Rollins Lake a day earlier, when “it looked like the whole town was going to burn.” Conditions had calmed down a bit on Thursday and he was hoping for the best.

“I think I’d better have a good breakfast before I lose my house,” he said.

After firefighters made progress earlier this week, high heat, low humidity and gusty winds erupted on Wednesday and are expected to pose a continuing threat.


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