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A fire-damaged street sign marks Main Street in a decimated downtown Greenville, California during the Dixie Fire on August 5, 2021. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

'Like a Blowtorch': Historic Dixie Fire 'Catastrophically' Destroys Greenville, California

"Our historical buildings, families homes, small businesses, and our children's schools are completely lost," said Plumas County Supervisor Kevin Goss.

Jessica Corbett

While the Western United States and other regions around the world endure intensifying wildfires that climate scientists have long warned of, the California town Greenville garnered global attention on Thursday after the Dixie Fire—now over 322,000 acres—"leveled" much of the tiny community.

"I'm not going to say total [destruction] because not every structure is gone. But the town it's catastrophically destroyed," Dan Kearns, a volunteer firefighter, told USA Today.

As U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) put it in a Facebook video: "We lost Greenville tonight."

Following the overnight devastation, Plumas County Supervisor Kevin Goss wrote on Facebook early Thursday that "our beloved small town… faced our biggest nightmare."

"The Dixie Fire burnt down our entire downtown," Goss continued. "Our historical buildings, families homes, small businesses, and our children's schools are completely lost."

Goss lives in Taylorsville, but has had a pharmacy in Greenville for over three decades, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"My pharmacy is gone, I know that," said Goss, whose business was located in the town's oldest building, which dated back to 1860. "The whole historic downtown area is gone."

The fire, he added, "came through there like a blowtorch."

Curtis Machlan, who moved to Greenville in 2007, referenced the Camp Fire that ravaged Paradise, California in 2018, killing dozens of people.

"I had a feeling that this was going to happen this year," he told the Los Angeles Times, citing the area's dry conditions. "After Paradise went up a couple of years ago, it was really just a matter of time until it happened to more mountain communities."

"It's the climate change," Machlan added. "Everybody who didn't believe it in Greenville is now a climate refugee."

As The New York Times explained last month:

Wildfires require a spark and fuel. In the forests of the Western United States, half of wildfires are initiated by lightning. The other half are human-caused—frequently started by power lines, cigarettes, cars, camp fires, or arson.

In recent years, there's been an abundance of very dry fuel. Drought and high heat can kill trees and dry out dead grass, pine needles, and any other material on the bottom of the forest floor that act as kindling when a fire sweeps through a forest.

Wildfire experts see the signature of climate change in the dryness, high heat, and longer fire season that have made these fires more extreme.

"We wouldn't be seeing this giant ramp up in fire activity as fast as it is happening without climate change," Park Williams, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the newspaper. "There's just no way."

As of Thursday there were 100 large active fires that had collectively burned 1.95 million acres across 14 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center—which noted that "several large fires in California displayed extreme fire behavior," including Dixie.

In a series of tweets about the Dixie Fire—now one of the largest in California's history—Greenpeace USA emphasized the need for climate action, particularly in the Golden State.

"As droughts, heatwaves, and historic wildfires continue to threaten our homes, livelihoods, and health, California can no longer afford far-off timetables for addressing climate change," the group tweeted. "Continuing to drill for oil is literally #FuelingTheFlames!"

"We are in a #ClimateEmergency that demands action NOW," Greenpeace added. "If we are to have a livable California for the future, it's important [Democratic Gov. Gavin] Newsom leads the nation in taking urgent action and phasing out fossil fuels!"

As Common Dreams has reported, the Bootleg Fire in neighboring Oregon has also sparked recent calls for climate action. The destructive blazes come just a couple months ahead of a major United Nations climate summit that kicks off in Scotland on October 31.

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