Heavy smoke begins to clear from the forests of northern California as firefighters tackling the largest wildfire in state history braced for a return to fire-prone weather.
The winds are not expected to reach the fierce speeds that helped the Dixie Fire grow to considerable size in the U.S. state last week.
But the forecast is no less worrying for firefighters who are working in unprecedented conditions to protect thousands of threatened homes.
Mark Brunton, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said: “The living trees that exist now have lower fuel humidity than you would find when you walked into a hardware store or lumberyard and that you salvage this piece of wood. it is oven dried.
“It’s so dry, so it doesn’t take much for embers, sparks, or a little flaming forehead to move it forward.”
Fueled by strong winds and dry vegetation, the blaze incinerated much of Greenville on Wednesday and Thursday last week, destroying 370 homes and structures and threatening nearly 14,000 buildings in the northern Sierra Nevada.
The Dixie Fire, named after the road it started nearly four weeks ago, expanded overnight to an area of 725 square miles on Sunday morning and was only 21 percent contained, according to CalFire.
It burned down an area more than twice the size of New York City.
With the smoke clearing from the eastern parts of the blaze, teams that had directly attacked the front lines would be forced to retreat and build containment lines further away, said Dan McKeague, an official for the fire. US Forest Service fire information.
On the positive side, better visibility should allow planes and helicopters to resume combat and make maneuvering safer for ground crews.
“As soon as the air clears, we will be able to fly again,” McKeague said.
Crews built 465 miles of line around the massive blaze, said deputy incident commander Chris Waters. This is roughly the distance between the city of Chico in central California and Los Angeles. But officials are only convinced about 20% of the line is secure, he said.
“Every part of this line needs to be built, staffed, cleaned and actually put to bed before we can call this fire fully under control,” Mr. Waters said.
Erratic winds were forecast again Sunday afternoon. But the weather was to settle, from Monday.
Damage reports are preliminary because assessment teams cannot go into many areas, officials said.
The blaze became the largest blaze in California history, overtaking last year’s Creek Fire in the Central Valley.
It is about half the size of the August complex, a series of lightning-triggered fires in 2020 across seven counties that have been fought together and that state officials consider the largest wildfire in California.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The Pacific Gas & Electric utility said it could have been triggered when a tree fell on one of its power lines. On Friday, a federal judge ordered PG&E to give details by Aug. 16 on the equipment and vegetation where the fire started.
Cooler temperatures and higher humidity slowed the spread of the fire, and temperatures rose above 32 ° C instead of the highs recorded earlier in the week.
But the blaze and its neighboring fires, several hundred kilometers apart, posed a continuing threat.
Gov. Gavin Newsom documented the damage in Greenville on Saturday, writing on Twitter that “our hearts are hurting for this city.”
“These are climate-induced wildfires and we have to recognize that we have the capacity not only of the state but of this country to solve this problem,” Newsom told CNN.
Heat waves and the historic drought associated with climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight in the American West.
Scientists said climate change has made the region much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather conditions more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.