California’s largest fire torches homes as blazes lash western US

California’s largest fire torches homes as blazes lash western US
Flames from the Dixie fire consume a home in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, California (Noah Berger/AP)

Flames racing through rugged terrain in Northern California destroyed scores of homes as the state’s largest wildfire intensified and numerous other blazes battered the western US.

The Dixie fire, which started on July 14, had already levelled more than a dozen houses and other structures when it tore through the tiny town of Indian Falls after dark.

It was burning in a remote area with limited access, hampering firefighters’ efforts as it advanced eastwards, officials said.

The blaze has charred more than 181,000 acres (73,200 hectares) in Plumas and Butte Counties and prompted evacuation orders in several small communities and along the west shore of Lake Almano, a popular getaway. The fire was 20% contained as of Saturday night.

A firefighter passes a burning home as the Dixie fire rages in Plumas County, California (Noah Berger/AP)

Meanwhile, the nation’s largest wildfire, southern Oregon’s Bootleg fire, was almost halfway surrounded on Saturday as more than 2,200 crew members worked to corral it in the heat and wind, fire officials said.

The growth of the sprawling blaze had slowed, but thousands of homes remained threatened on its eastern side, authorities said.

“This fire is resistant to stopping at dozer lines,” said Jim Hanson, a fire behaviour analyst, in a news release from the Oregon Department of Forestry. “With the critically dry weather and fuels we are experiencing, firefighters are having to constantly re-evaluate their control lines and look for contingency options.”

William Deal wets down his 1977 Trans Am as the Dixie Fire approaches Crescent Mills in Plumas County, California (Noah Berger/AP)

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for four northern counties because of wildfires that he said were causing “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property”. The proclamation opened the way for more state support.

Such conditions are often from a combination of unusual random, short-term and natural weather patterns heightened by long-term, human-caused climate change. Global warming has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years.

On Saturday, fire crews from California and Utah headed to Montana, Governor Greg Gianforte announced.

Another high-priority blaze, the Alder Creek fire in south-west Montana, had charred more than 6,800 acres (2,750 hectares) and was 10% contained on Saturday night. It was threatening nearly 240 homes.

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

Heavy smoke from that blaze and the Dixie fire reduced visibility and at times grounded aircraft providing support for fire crews. The air quality south of Lake Tahoe and across the state line into Nevada deteriorated to very unhealthy levels.

Firefighters battle the Dixie Fire in Plumas County, California (Noah Berger/AP)

In north-central Washington, firefighters battled two blazes in Okanogan County which threatened hundreds of homes and again caused hazardous air quality conditions ib Saturday.

And in northern Idaho, east of Spokane, Washington, a small fire near the Silverwood Theme Park prompted evacuations at the park and in the surrounding area on Friday evening. The theme park reopened on Saturday with the fire half contained.

Although hot weather with afternoon winds posed a continued threat of spreading blazes, weekend forecasts also suggested a chance of scattered thunderstorms in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and other states. However, forecasters said some could be dry thunderstorms that produce little rain but a lot of lightning, which can spark new blazes.

More than 85 large wildfires were burning around the country, most of them in Western states, and had burned more than 1.4 million acres (2,135 square miles, or more than 553,000 hectares).

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