Massive Dixie Fire merges with Fly Fire, tears through small town as California burns

  • More homes burned and 10,000 others remained threatened by the Dixie Fire.
  • More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the combined blaze.
  • Firefighters forced to hike through rugged terrain with hand tools.

More homes burned and 10,000 others remained threatened Monday as a fast-growing Northern California wildfire merged with another blaze and swept through the Plumas County community of Indian Falls.

“The Dixie Fire experienced significant growth and very challenging fire conditions,” fire managers said in an incident report late Sunday. 

A damage assessment of the town was not available early Monday. Firefighters carrying hand tools were forced to hike through rugged terrain where engines can’t go, said Rick Carhart, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fire, which started burning less than two weeks ago, already has consumed 300 square miles of forest, brush and homes. More than 5,000 firefighters are battling the combined blaze now that the Dixie and Fly Fires have merged.

“It has been burning in extremely steep canyons, some places where it is almost impossible for human beings to set foot on the ground,” Carhart said. “It’s going to be a long haul.”

‘Like a hammer hitting us in the head’: Homes ablaze in California as Western wildfires rage

Strike teams with engines were in Indian Falls and nearby Paxton, communities totaling just a few dozen residents, to save what homes they could as the fire intensified, Carhart said. Firefighters also were preparing fire lines southwest of the town of Taylorsville, with a population of about 200, to protect the community as the flames advanced.

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Smoke overwhelmed much of the area – and that was actually good news, Dixie Fire Behavior Analyst Dennis Burns said at a briefing. 

“The smoke is like putting a lid on a pot,” Burns said. “It really dampens the fire behavior. It doesn’t allow the sun to preheat those fuels, and the thick smoke pushes the wind around to the sides (of the fire).

Cal Incident Team 2 commander Mike Minton told a local CBS-TV station that  the fire behavior and conditions that are not common for the area.

“The threats and risks associated with this fire are very real,” he said. “It’s very extreme fire behavior that essentially caused firefighters to have to retreat into safe areas and allow for that fire front to make its passage.”

Scorched cars are seen in a clearing in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, Calif., on July 25, 2021.

Massive Bootleg Fire burns in Oregon as officials seek outside help

The fire was among 86 large fires now burning across 12 states that have devoured more than 2,300 square miles of mostly forest and brush. The largest fire, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, had burned almost 640 square miles in the Fremont-Winema National Forest and was less than 50% contained.

The fire has destroyed more than 70 homes, and thousands more were threatened.

“Seasonal drying coupled with drought conditions have made all fuels available for active burning conditions,” fire managers said in an update late Saturday.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the impact of climate change was being felt “in real time” in her state. She said her state is taking initiatives, such as thinning and burning in forests to mitigate risks. But ultimately federal help will be required, she said.

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“Historic fires, extensive drought, unprecedented heat,” Brown said on Twitter. “We need bold action from Congress to complement the steps we’re taking at the state level.”

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