Eva Gorman says the small Californian mountain town of Greenville It was a place with a sense of community and strong character, the kind of place where neighbors volunteered to move furniture, colorful flower baskets brightened the main street, and writers, musicians, mechanics, and chicken farmers shared a friendship.
Now, it was turned to ashes.
When hot, dry and windy weather hit California, the biggest wildfire in the state devastated this community of about 1,000 inhabitants It dates back to the time of the gold rush in the Sierra Nevada.
Much of the city center was incinerated, where wooden buildings over a century old.
The winds were expected to calm down and change direction as the weekend approached, but that good news came too late for Gorman.
Escape the flames
“It is absolutely devastating. We have lost our home, my business, the entire city center has disappeared,” said Gorman, who heeded evacuation warnings and left the city with her husband a week and a half ago as the Dixie fire.
She managed to grab some photos she had hanging on the wall, her favorite jewelry, and important documents, but she couldn’t help but think about the family treasures left behind.
“My grandmother’s dining room chairs, my great-aunt’s bed from Italy. There is a photo that I keep visualizing in my mind of my son when he was 2 years old. He is now 37,” she said. “At first you think: ‘It’s okay, I have the negatives.’ And then you realize: ‘Oh, no. I don’t have them.’
Houses turned to ashes
Authorities had not yet assessed the number of buildings destroyed, but Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns estimated Thursday that “well over” 100 homes had burned in and around the town.
“My heart is broken by what happened there,” said Johns, a longtime resident of Greenville.
Authorities said that about a two-hour drive south, about 100 houses and other buildings burned in the fast-paced River Fire that broke out near Colfax, a city of 2,000 people, on Wednesday.
There was no containment and some 6,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Placer and Nevada counties, state fire officials reported.
Historic drought and heat wave
The Dixie Fire, which lasted three weeks, was one of the one hundred large active fires burning in 14 states, most in the west, where a historic drought, in the midst of a violent heat wave, left the land parched and ready to burn.
The Dixie Fire had consumed about 1,750 square kilometers, according to an estimate released Friday morning. That caused it to go from being the sixth largest fire in the state to become the third overnight.
The cause of the fire was being investigated, but Pacific Gas & Electric said it could have been triggered when a tree fell on one of the power lines of the company.
The blaze broke out Wednesday and Thursday as wood, grass and brush caught fire so dry that a fire official described the situation as “basically close to combustion.”
Dozens of houses had already burned before the flames made further advances.
There were no deaths or injuries, but the fire continued to threaten more than 10,000 homes.
On Thursday, the weather and sky-high clouds of smoke generated by the fire’s intense and erratic winds made it difficult for firefighters to locate their men in the changing floodlights.
“It is causing havoc. The winds change direction every few hours,” warned Captain Sergio Arellano, a fire department spokesman.
“We’re seeing very scary fire behavior,” said Chris Carlton, Plumas National Forest supervisor. “We are in uncharted territory.”
Heat waves and a historic drought linked to climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight in the American West.
Scientists say that climate change made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the region much hotter and drier. weather conditions are more extreme and the most frequent and destructive forest fires.
The fire hit Greenville from two angles and firefighters were already in the city trying to save it, but first they had to risk their lives to save people who had refused to evacuate, loading them into cars to get them out, firefighters said.
“We have firefighters that people point guns at because they don’t want to be evicted,” said Jake Cagle, chief of the incident management operations section.
The flames also reached the city of Chester, northwest of Greenville, but crews managed to protect homes and businesses there, with only minor damage to one or two structures, authorities said.
The fire was not far from the town of Paradise, which was largely destroyed in a 2018 wildfire started by PG&E crews. It killed 85 people, making it the deadliest in the country in at least a century.
Source: The Associated Press
Translation: Elisa Carnelli