Wildfires blaze throughout Northern California causing destruction


Scientific American

One-liner: Northern California wildfires that razed two mountain villages raged on Wednesday in the Sierra Nevada, as a utility intentionally blacked out up to 51,000 customers to prevent fresh blazes.

Relevance: According to experts, climate change has made the US West warmer and drier in the last 30 years and will continue to make weather more intense and wildfires more catastrophic.

Zoom in: Two weeks after the Dixie Fire burned much of the Gold Rush-era town of Greenville, a few miles southeast, the Caldor Fire erupted through tinder-dry woods and decimated Grizzly Flats, a forest settlement of about 1,200 people.

  • Since the fire broke out on Saturday, at least 50 homes have burnt in the region, according to fire officials, and two individuals have been hospitalized with critical injuries. El Dorado County, where officials were considering shutting the whole El Dorado National Forest, was declared a state of emergency by Gov. Gavin Newsom
  • “We know this fire has done things that nobody could have predicted, but that's how firefighting has been in the state this year.” - Jeff Marsolais, El Dorado National Forest Supervisor Chief 

Behind the scenes: From Monday afternoon to Tuesday, both fires expanded by tens of thousands of acres, torching trees and burning up vegetation left tinder-dry by high temperatures, low humidity, and dryness. The flames were propelled by afternoon breezes. In Grizzly Flats, where roadways were strewn with downed power wires and poles, few homes were intact. 

  • Only chimneys rose above the wreckage as houses were reduced to burning ash and twisted metal. In addition, a post office and an elementary school were damaged. At the Dixie Fire, numerous resources were put into the Susanville area, a city of about 18,000 a few miles from the northeastern edge of the blaze
  • Residents were warned to be ready to evacuate and new evacuations were ordered Tuesday for the month-old blaze, which was only a third surrounded

Power shut off: For the first time since last year's exceptionally disastrous fire season, Pacific Gas & Electric has begun turning off the electricity to up to 51,000 customers in 18 Northern California counties to avoid wildfires.

  • According to the company, the outages were concentrated in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the North Coast, the North Valley, and the North Bay mountains, and they may persist until Wednesday afternoon. The outages were declared by the nation's major utility as a precaution to prevent gusts from damaging power lines and igniting fires
  • PG&E has notified utility regulators that the Dixie fire may have been caused by trees falling into its power lines

Flashback: The Dixie Fire began near the town of Paradise, which was devastated by a 2018 wildfire ignited by PG&E equipment during strong winds. Eighty-five people died. The Dixie Fire is the largest of nearly 100 major wildfires burning across a dozen Western states, including Alaska. 

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