The fire, which troubled utility giant PG&E Corp. said may have been sparked by one of its power lines, has ripped through more than 489,000 acres (198,000 hectares), destroying the Gold-Rush-era town of Greenville last week. It’s now spreading toward Janesville, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast.
“Our intention is that we will not lose any more structures, we will not lose any more communities,” Mark Brunton, operations section chief with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said in a briefing Sunday. “That is our priority.”
More than a dozen blazes are burning across California, fueled by a historic drought and heat waves that parched the West and created ideal wildfire conditions. Wildfires have also devastated Greece, Turkey and Siberia this year, and a landmark report Monday from the United Nations found “unequivocal” evidence that human activities have warmed the atmosphere.
The Dixie fire has been burning for almost four weeks and has destroyed more than 600 structures, according to Cal Fire, as the agency is known. The destruction is a growing risk for PG&E, which said last month that a worker had discovered a tree leaning against a power line near the start of the blaze.
The company’s shares were up 0.2% at 3:25 p.m. in New York Monday.
A judge on Friday ordered the utility to identify each of the California wildfires its equipment started this year. PG&E emerged from bankruptcy last year after sparking a series of wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that killed more than 100 people.
The Dixie fire has prompted mass evacuations as it continues to tear across the region, and was just 21% contained on Monday morning. Firefighters were aided over the weekend as the winds shifted in their favor, but higher temperatures this week are helping to fuel the blaze.
“Really hot conditions and really dry conditions are what is fueling the fire,” said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento. “It is still pretty dry and that is really not going to improve much.”
The Dixie Fire started on July 13 and destroyed much of the northern Sierra Nevada town of Greenville last week, leveling buildings and melting lamp posts.
“We’re really focusing on this effort just to keep it out of Janesville,” Jake Cagle, an operations sections chief with the U.S. Forest Service, said in a briefing. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
California’s eight biggest wildfires have all burned since December 2017, department statistics show. Last year’s August Complex fire that destroyed more than 1 million acres remains the largest.
–With assistance from Brian K. Sullivan and Olivia Carville.