California's largest wildfire leaves historic town in ashes


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© Reuters. View of a burned out commercial building following the Dixie Fire, a wildfire that tore through the town of Greenville, California, U.S. August 5, 2021. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

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By Fred Greaves

GREENVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – The main thoroughfare in a historic California gold-rush town was in smoldering ruins on Thursday, hours after the state’s largest wildfire engulfed the hamlet of Greenville in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Fire crews were still working on Thursday to extinguish fires in Greenville, about 160 miles (260 km) north of Sacramento, after the Dixie Fire roared through on the previous night.

The Dixie Fire has been raging in the area for three weeks, burning 322,000 acres (130,000 hectares), and was 35% contained as of Thursday morning, officials said.

“Despite valiant efforts of firefighters, aerial resources and law enforcement to protect life and defend property, fire spread into the community of Greenville,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said online on Thursday.

The Dixie Fire was among the more than 12 wildfires burning around the state.

The River Fire, which started on Wednesday and has charred 2,400 acres in Nevada and Placer Counties, forced thousands of people to evacuate including most of the town of Colfax. More than 50 homes or other structures were destroyed and another 30 damaged, while the fire was zero percent contained, Cal Fire said.

California, which typically experiences peak fire season later in the year, was on pace to suffer even more burnt acreage this year than last year, which was the worst fire season on record.

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California’s five largest wildfires in history have all occurred in the last three seasons, burning more than 2.5 million acres and destroying 3,700 structures. The Dixie Fire is the sixth-largest in state history.

It was unclear how many structures were destroyed in Greenville as fire crews were still assessing the damage, Cal Fire spokesperson Mitch Matlow told Reuters. There were no injuries or deaths reported, he said.

But one man was missing after he told his sister he was evacuating, the Plumas News reported. The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office had ordered Greenville residents to evacuate on Wednesday.

The Dixie Fire started on July 14 in the area of the Feather River Canyon, about 20 miles from Paradise, a town destroyed by a wildfire in 2018 that killed 86 people. The current blaze has destroyed 45 structures and damaged five others, Cal Fire said on Thursday morning.

Greenville, population 800, was founded more than 150 years ago when nearby gold mines attracted settlers and merchants to the picturesque town in the Indian Valley.

Video and photographs posted on social media showed structures along Greenville’s quaint main strip in heaps of ashes and debris as smoke rose into the hazy sky.

“My defiantly quirky, beautiful adopted hometown turned into a ghost town last night,” wrote Meg Upton, a reporter for the newspaper, in an online article.

Extremely low humidity and high winds were fueling the Dixie Fire, 35% contained in Butte and Plumas counties, Cal Fire said.

The California Office of Emergency Services said on Thursday that about 16,000 people had been evacuated from several fires burning across five counties in the northern part of the state.

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