Wildfires scorch Western US as homes burn and thousands threatened

  • More than 22,000 firefighters fought the flames.
  • Heavy smoke affects visibility and could lay aircraft on the ground
  • The nation’s largest fire is the bootleg fire in southern Oregon.

Thousands of firefighters across the country battled “extreme fire behavior” on Sunday when California’s largest fire tore down homes and forced thousands of residents to flee the rapidly spreading flames.

The Dixie Fire in Northern California was one of at least 88 major forest fires that raged in 13 states, including one in Oregon that burned 640 square miles. More than 22,000 firefighters fought the flames, often battling rough terrain in hot, dry conditions, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

“Northern Intermountain West will continue to experience very dry conditions, including poor overnight recovery for medium slopes and ridges,” the fire department warned.

The Dixie Fire, which began less than two weeks ago, had grown to about 300 square miles on Sunday and destroyed more than 20 homes and buildings. Thousands of homes were threatened and more than 5,000 firefighters fought the fire, Cal Fire said.

“Grateful for our firefighters fighting the Dixie Fire,” tweeted California Governor Gavin Newsom, who declared a state of emergency. “If you are in the area please stay safe and obey local official warnings.”

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Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea was among the police officers who went door-to-door to ensure residents of the areas at risk were evacuated. Compounding the extinguishing work was a number of smaller fires that broke out in the area, including some from people using machines, Honea said.

“We can’t afford any more fires, and luckily Cal Fire managed to get these fires under control and keep them from destroying structures or from spreading,” Honea told the Enterprise Record. “But happiness won’t last. So if you’re out there doing things … that could start a fire – stop. “

Evacuations have been ordered for several communities in the counties of Butte, Plumas and Tehama. The cause of the fire has not been clarified.

Elsewhere in California, the fire in Tamarack, south of Lake Tahoe, continued to burn through wood and chaparral and threatened communities on both sides of the California-Nevada state line. The fire that started by lightning in Alpine County on July 4 destroyed at least 10 buildings.

Heavy smoke from this fire and the Dixie fire reduced visibility and can sometimes land planes assisting the firefighters. Air quality south of Lake Tahoe and across the state line into Nevada deteriorated to very unhealthy levels.

The country’s largest wildfire, the southern Oregon bootleg fire, was nearly half encircled on Saturday as more than 2,200 crew members worked to contain it in the heat and wind, firefighters said. The growth of the widespread fire had slowed, but thousands of homes remained threatened on its east side, authorities said.

“This fire is resistant to being caught on bulldozers,” said Jim Hanson, behavioral fire analyst with the Oregon Department of Forestry. “Given the critically dry weather and the fuels we are experiencing, firefighters must constantly reassess their control lines and look for emergency options.”

Contribution: The Associated Press

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