Wildfire Linked to PG&E Ravages California Gold-Rush Town
(Bloomberg) -- Firefighters battling a massive blaze in Northern California are catching a break as winds are expected to ease over the next few days.
Four people remain unaccounted for after the Dixie Fire, now the third-largest in state history, tore through the town of Greenville Wednesday night.
It’s among more than a dozen major fires burning across the region. The number of acres burned in the state this year has jumped 151% compared to the same months last year, state fire officials say, as the entire U.S. West is gripped by a historic drought. Climate change is fueling extreme weather around the globe, with Turkey battling its worst wildfires in decades and Greece seeing its hottest day on record this week.
Winds that have been driving the Dixie fire will ease and shift direction starting Friday. That will push the blaze back toward areas that have already burned and away from another town that had been threatened, according to Ryan Wilborn, an incident meteorologist for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“Its a little bit of good news as we head into the weekend,” Wilborn said during a town hall meeting Thursday night. “Its gonna be gentler winds as we march forward.”
The Dixie Fire, which troubled utility giant PG&E Corp. said may have been sparked by one of its power lines, ripped through the gold-rush-era hamlet of Greenville late Wednesday, leveling buildings, melting street lamp posts and leaving downtown in ruins, according to local news reports.
The fire has swelled to 432,813 acres (175,153 hectares) and is 35% contained. The eight largest wildfires in California history have all come since December 2017, as hotter summers are leaving the West with plenty of fuel that’s helping them grow and spread.
“The extreme fire behavior we’re seeing is not like what we’ve seen in the past,” Chris Carlton, forest supervisor for Plumas National Forest, said during a briefing Thursday.
About 60 miles south of Greenville, a second blaze forced residents to flee after erupting Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday night, the River Fire had swelled to 2,600 acres and destroyed 76 buildings.
Destruction from the Dixie Fire could be a blow for PG&E, which emerged from bankruptcy last year after sparking a series of wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that killed more than 100 people. The utility said last month that a worker investigating a power outage near the start of the blaze found a tree leaning against a power line.
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