Dixie Fire May Have Been Sparked by Power Lines
GREENVILLE, Calif. — Northern California’s extensive Dixie Fire has enveloped over 510,000 acres across four counties as crews work tirelessly to contain the nation’s largest active wildfire.
Smoke and ash from various wildfires are causing poor air quality conditions around the state. Nearby Greenville — a census-designated area in Plumas County — sits empty, surrounded by burnt foliage and shrouded in sun-blotting haze.
Greenville has had a peaceful existence on the northwest side of Indian Valley since it was rebuilt by gold miners who inhabited it after a catastrophic fire destroyed most of the buildings on the northside of Main Street in 1881. Several of its structures dated back to the Gold Rush era: the Bransford and Mclntyre Warehouse, the McBeth and Compton Warehouse, the McBeth and Compton Store and the Perine Bank.
But as of Aug. 4, most of Greenville’s historic downtown and more than 100 homes had been turned to rubble by the Dixie Fire. Around three-quarters of the town’s structures were destroyed in the blaze, including the public library and the fire department.
“At this point, we are in the process of doing a damage assessment to take into the totality of all of the losses in the multiple counties that have been impacted by these series of fires,” Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Everything from Placer County in the River fire down south all the way up to Siskiyou County and Trinity [County] — the Monument and McFarland [fires] in the north.”
The Dixie Fire first started burning on July 14 and is only about 30% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Since the fire’s inception, more than 18,000 residents have been evacuated from surrounding areas and the blaze continues to threaten a dozen small communities in the northern Sierra Nevada region.
Although the cause of the Dixie Fire is still under investigation, the Pacific Gas & Electric utility company has indicated in a report filed with state regulators the fire may have begun after a tree fell on one of its power lines near the Cresta Dam in the Feather River Canyon. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said equipment operated by PG&E is strongly suspected to have initiated the extensive burning.
“A lot is happening while the fire is still being fought,” Ghilarducci said. “We are not really waiting, we are working to actively begin the process of getting that damage assessment done and then we’ll work with our partners at the federal emergency management agency to see about getting some additional aid, if possible, to support the state and the state programs coming together in support of these communities.”
In May, TWN reported Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., introduced legislation that would utilize controlled burns in an effort to mitigate the effects of severe wildfires nationwide. If enacted, the United States Forest Service and the Department of the Interior would be required to allocate $300 million to increase the number of acres treated with controlled burns. No action has been taken by the Senate on the bill since it was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
History repeated itself this year following the revelation that PG&E equipment and negligence ignited the Camp Fire in November 2018, TWN previously reported, still one of the deadliest corporate crimes in state history. In response to the disaster, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Public Utilities Commission created a new division to monitor wildfire safety plans from California utilities.
By acreage, the Dixie Fire is California’s second-largest wildfire in recorded history next to last year’s August Complex fire which scorched more than a million acres. However, the Dixie Fire is not a wildfire “complex,” meaning two or more fires active in the same area. Consequently, the Dixie Fire is believed by authorities to be California’s largest single wildfire in state history.
Last weekend, California law enforcement arrested a man suspected of setting a small blaze around July 20 in Lassen County, a remote forested area nearby the Dixie Fire. So far, at least 1,045 structures have been destroyed by the wildfire, including 550 homes.
Although injuries to three firefighters have been reported as a result of the blaze, no deaths and no civilian injuries have been reported, according to CalFire.
Climate scientists and meteorologists have pointed to climate change as a powerful contributing factor in the rampant spread of wildfires in recent years. Radiant energy, emitted by greenhouse gases trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, has caused prolonged drought and intense heat in summer months throughout the globe.
Forecasted weather conditions might exacerbate the violent blazes as hot and dry conditions with wind gusts between 12 to 15 mph are expected throughout the northern California region. Some officials predict the wildfires could last until late fall or early winter when rains typically arrive.
“The concern we have going into the next few days is another bout of monsoonal moisture coming up through southern California turning into dry lightning potentially through this area and all the way to the north coast of California and then into Oregon and Washington, as well,” Thom Porter, CalFire chief and director, said during a press conference. “That’s of grave concern in the near term, and we’re also very well aware that we have a long peak season left in this year.”
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