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Dixie Fire

A burned church rests in heavy smoke during the Dixie fire in Greenville, California on August 6, 2021. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

'We Lost Everything': Greenville Residents Reel as California's Dixie Fire Grows to Historic Proportions

Supercharged by heatwaves and drought—both fueled by climate change—wildfires in California this year have incinerated three times as much territory as in the same period of last year's record fire season.

Brett Wilkins

As Greenville, California residents reel from the incineration of their town by the Dixie Fire earlier this week, the massive conflagration continued to grow Saturday into the largest single-source wildfire in recorded state history.

"This tears at my heartstrings because that's our beginning, that has all of our historical documents... and now it doesn't even stand."
—Tribal Chair Angela Martin, Greenville Rancheria

The Chico Enterprise-Record reports the Dixie blaze grew by 11,910 acres to 446,723 acres on Saturday morning, making it not only the state's largest-ever single-source fire, but also the third-largest wildfire in California history. Only last year's August Complex Fire, which burned more than a million acres, and the 2018 Mendocino Complex, at 459,000 acres scorched, were bigger.

As of Saturday morning, the Dixie Fire was 21% contained, as 5,118 firefighters—including teams of state prisoners—384 fire engines, 124 water tenders, 27 helicopters, 87 hand crews, and 107 bulldozers battled the blaze.

While CalFire said Saturday that firefighters were aided by "slightly cooler temperatures and higher humidity," full containment is not expected until August 20. The blaze has destroyed or damaged more than 280 structures, while threatening nearly 14,000 others.

The Redding Record Searchlight reports Plumas County Sheriff's deputies said Friday that they are searching for eight people missing due to the fire. Meanwhile, displaced residents of the Plumas County town of Greenville were left stunned from the near-complete destruction of their town on Wednesday.

"We lost everything," Jose Garcia, who stayed in the town with his 70-year-old father in a desperate and doomed attempt to save his family's home, told the New York Times. "I tried to defend it to the last second. The fire just pushed me out."

The Dixie Fire destroyed much of the Greenville Rancheria, built in the late 19th century as a "safe zone" for Maidu and other California Indigenous peoples who at the time were suffering some of the worst genocidal violence in American history, as well as widespread enslavement and deadly forced relocation, at the hands of state authorities and U.S. colonists who stole their land while settling the region.

According to the Record Searchlight, the blaze destroyed the rancheria's medical and dental facilities, tribal office, environmental and fire offices, and fire trucks and other vehicles.

"This tears at my heartstrings because that's our beginning, that has all of our historical documents... and now it doesn't even stand," Tribal Chair Angela Martin told the outlet.

While the cause of the wildfire has not yet been determined, district attorneys in Plumas and Butte counties are investigating Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)—whose power lines have caused more than 1,500 wildfires in recent years, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people—over the company's July admission that its equipment may have sparked the Dixie Fire.

Supercharged by heatwaves and drought—both fueled by the worsening human-induced climate emergency—wildfires in California this year have scorched three times as much territory as in the same period of last year's record fire season.

In addition to the Dixie Fire, four other large wildfires are each currently burning tens of thousands of acres, with little or no containment. In southern Oregon, local media outlets reported that cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped firefighters achieve 87% containment of the Bootleg Fire, which has burned more than 413,000 acres and destroyed over 400 buildings.

Further north, dozens of wildfires are incinerating tens of thousands of acres in Oregon, Washington state, and British Columbia in Canada, where on Thursday Monte Lake became the second community in the province to be destroyed by fire in the past month.

Wildfires are also ravaging parts of countries including Greece, Turkey, Italy, Lebanon, Brazil, and Russia.

On Friday, The Guardian reported scientists at the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said that last month was the world's worst July for wildfires since at least 2003, when satellite records began.

Earlier this week, the Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter from 21 leading U.S. climate scientists to President Joe Biden urging his administration to "go big on climate action and to do so now."

"As our nation reels from extreme heatwaves, drought, wildfires, and abnormally warm ocean waters fueled an early start to a projected more active than normal Atlantic hurricane season," the letter (pdf) said, "we are reminded that climate change is here and already exerting a fearsome toll on people, critical ecosystems, and our economy."

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