Watch Now

Dixie fire spreading, now second biggest in California history

Dixie fire is largest in US, 2 1/2 times the size of New York City

Crews at the Dixie fire in northern California on August 4, 2021. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)

Over the weekend, the Dixie fire in northern California became the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history. Thousands of residents remained under evacuation orders Sunday and thousands of buildings stood in the fire’s path.

The Dixie fire began the afternoon of July 13 and leveled much of the historic Sierra Nevada town of Greenville last week. As of early Monday, it had grown to nearly 490,000 acres, according to InciWeb. By Monday evening, it shrunk slightly to 482,000 acres, about 2 1/2 times the size of New York City in terms of area. Less than a quarter of the blaze is surrounded by containment lines.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), only the August Complex fire was larger. It scorched more than 1 million acres across seven counties last year.

No deaths have been reported and, as of Monday morning, there have been no reports of unaccounted individuals. This is according to Plumas County officials. Three firefighters have been injured, and more than 700 buildings have been destroyed, according to Cal Fire.

Another 13,000 buildings remained threatened, and about 7,000 people are under evacuation orders in Plumas County, officials said.

In a briefing Sunday, Jake Cagle, a section chief with the U.S. Forest Service, said a layer of smoke that settled over an eastern section of the fire was expected to lift in the afternoon, allowing firefighters to attack it with helicopters and other aircraft. But as this “inversion” dissipates, Cagle said, more hot, windy conditions could return, allowing the fire to make another run, as it did toward Greenville.

“We’re definitely not out of the woods yet,” Cagle added.

Last week gusty winds spread the fire out of control, decreasing containment from 35% to 21% by the weekend. Containment stood at 22% Monday evening, and the fire was spreading toward Taylorsville and other nearby towns.

Adding fuel to the fire is the region’s long-term major drought, keeping the ground bone dry. The Dixie fire, as well as several others, have also created their own local weather issues like pyrocumulus clouds that produce lightning. They have also spun up fire whirls due to the intense heat.

For truckers who have to go anywhere near the Dixie fire area, or any of the other dozens of wildfires out West, thick smoke will lead to low visibility and very unhealthy air quality. Road closures are likely near these large fires, especially state and local roads. Be aware that smoke may drift into areas hundreds of miles away, impacting portions of the Rockies and Plains.

Visiting Greenville on Saturday, NBC News reported that California Gov. Gavin Newsom compared the site to Paradise — another Sierra Nevada town that burned in 2018 in the state’s deadliest wildfire on record — and said the Dixie fire destroyed much of Greenville in less than two hours.

“We recognize we’ve got to do more in active forest management and vegetation management,” Newsom said. “At the end of the day, though, we also have to acknowledge this: The dries are getting a lot drier, and the heat and hot weather is a lot hotter than it’s ever been. We need to acknowledge, just straight up, these are climate-induced wildfires.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

You might also like:

‘Full-court press’: Trucking industry relieved I-40 bridge repairs almost done

Western wildfires heating up jet fuel demand

Hot Shots: Mudslides, floods, wildfires and more

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.