After the Dixie Fire devastated the Gold Rush town of Greenville, Calif., local officials said they were hopeful Friday’s improvement in weather conditions would help firefighters avoid further damage from the blaze.
At a community meeting Thursday night, a meteorologist told residents of endangered cities hours north of Sacramento that winds were expected to abate and smoke from the wildfire would keep temperatures on the ground cooler. He said there was no sign of the strong weather systems that had plagued this week.
But no one rested peacefully after seeing the devastation the twisting winds had wrought in Greenville, a city of about 1,000.
“Looks like a bomb went off,” said Ryan Meacher, 37, whose father’s home in Greenville was one of several that burned down. “There’s nothing left.”
Mr. Meacher lives in Grass Valley, itself threatened by the River Fire, and said it was heartbreaking to think about what was lost in Greenville – the library where he would pick up books and VHS tapes, the pizzeria next to the door with an arcade.
Also destroyed were a charter school where Kjessie Essue’s husband works and the Cy Hall Memorial Museum, which covers the history of Indian Valley and which her parents spent hundreds of hours building.
Mrs Essue, 38, lives in nearby Taylorsville and was evacuated south on Thursday with her Nigerian pygmy goats, her husband, her three young children and her parents, who do not know if their home in Greenville still stands.
She said it looked like a movie as they packed, with an alarm blaring and wild winds sending a plume of black-centered smoke to the area.
“Greenville is a wasteland,” she said. “It’s surreal.”
Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns said at the community meeting that there were no reported injuries, but authorities were still looking for four missing persons. He estimated that the fire, now the sixth largest in California’s recorded history, had destroyed more than 100 homes in the area.
“My heart was crushed by what happened there and by the people who lost homes and businesses,” said Sheriff Johns, a lifelong resident of Greenville.
The Dixie Fire has been contained 35 percent and has burned more than 420,000 acres in four counties. Officials said the fire appeared to have spared Chester, on both sides of the city near Lake Alomar, but other communities — Westwood, Chester Mills — closer to Greenville were still under threat.
On Sunday, after several days of favorable weather, authorities lifted a mandatory evacuation order for Greenville. But then the wind changed direction three times in two days, explosively dispersing the Dixie Fire.
“We’re seeing really terrifying fire behavior and I don’t know how to exaggerate that,” said Plumas National Forest supervisor Chris Carlton. “We have a lot of experienced firefighters who have been on duty for 20, 30 years and have never seen such behavior.”
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for three counties on Thursday, noting that “strong winds, high temperatures, drought and dry fuels have further increased the spread” of the Antelope Fire in Siskiyou County, on the Oregon border, and the River Fire. in Nevada and Placer Counties, northeast of Sacramento.
The River Fire, which has grown to 2,600 acres since it began on Wednesday, has destroyed 76 buildings and injured three people, including a firefighter. It has been contained 15 percent but threatens 3,400 more buildings, with 24,000 people living within a five-mile radius of the fire, according to the NewsMadura fire tracker.