‘This Isn’t How We’re Supposed to Live’: Residents Flee as Dixie Fire Surges
QUINCY, Calif .– There was a knock on the door at 3 p.m. as smoke filled the sky. When Kristina Bowen heard the Plumas County Sheriff’s Deputy scream, she knew she had to act fast.
“He said bluntly, ‘Pack your family’s bags, you have five minutes to get the hell out of it,” said Ms Bowen, 40, recalling the rush to evacuate her mobile home as Dixie Fire, by far the largest blaze now raging in California, has swept through the surrounding forests.
In what has become a sinister ritual in this part of northern California, at least 16,500 people have recently had to flee their homes for another colossal wildfire balloon. Evacuations are increasing tensions in an area still recovering from the campfire, which killed 85 people in 2018 and is the deadliest wildfire in California history.
President Biden held a virtual meeting on Friday with the governors of seven western states, where devastating wildfires have intensified in recent years as climate change leads to a warmer and drier landscape. They discussed how the federal government could assist states in their emergency prevention, preparedness and response efforts.
More than 80 large fires were burning across the country on Friday, burning an estimated 1.7 million acres in 13 states. The two largest, the Dixie Fire, which spanned nearly 241,000 acres, and the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, have both been described by fire officials as burning earlier and more intensely. than usual for this time of year due to drought conditions and record heat throughout the region.
In an eerie echo of the campfire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and was triggered by equipment from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the utilities giant told regulators this month that its equipment could also have been trigger the Dixie Fire, in the same mountain. canyon where the 2018 fire started.
The cause of the Dixie fire is still under investigation. Lynsey Paulo, spokesperson for PG&E, declined to answer questions, instead referring to a report filed with regulators and a court case in response to a court order requesting information about the blaze.
The incident report, which the company filed on July 18, described how an employee observed blown fuses in the field near Highway 70 and “a ground fire near the base of the tree.” which he reported to his supervisor, who then called 911. In the July 28 court file, the company said it was “continuing to investigate the role of its equipment” in the Dixie fire. , which on Friday was about 23% content.
As firefighters struggled to contain the blaze, Quincy, on the edge of the evacuation zone, was transformed this week from a sleepy forest town of about 2,000 residents into a frenzied staging area.
At night, firefighters pitch tents and sleep in the city park. At daybreak, they pile into trucks and bulldozers and head for the surrounding mountains.
In one of the largest ongoing emergency mobilizations in the United States, at least 6,079 people were called in to fight the Dixie Fire. They face an array of vexatious conditions on 24-hour shifts, including treks over 15 miles through rugged mountainous terrain to places where the engines are simply unable to move.
Black Hawk helicopters swirling overhead, carrying National Guard soldiers with water to throw on the blaze, make parts of the area feel like a war zone. Getting to Quincy from the town of Chico involves passing through several roadblocks and deserted Gold Rush-era outposts like Twain and Belden, which were somehow rescued by firefighters.
Extreme weather conditions
Charred trees still stand along much of Highway 70, along with signs of close calls such as burnt cars in front of intact but empty houses. Some wooded hillsides remained smoking on Friday. Several signs on the road expressed their gratitude to the firefighters deployed against the Dixie blaze.
“I’m just happy to be alive,” said Marva Stewart, 75, a retired saleswoman who has spent the last week and a half in a makeshift shelter at Springs of Hope Church in Quincy. “But it’s frustrating not knowing when this will end. This is not how we are supposed to live in this country.
One afternoon this week, some in the cramped church scoured social media feeds on their phones for updates on the Dixie Fire, which started July 13 and consumed an area larger than New York City. .
Baltazar Garcia repeatedly tried to call his sister, but flooded mobile phone networks in Quincy prevented him from passing. “It was very hard for me,” Garcia, 76, a former quarry worker said in Spanish. “I’m alone here and it’s hard to even know what’s going on. At least they give us meals.
Other evacuees spent time in the parking lot for semblance of privacy or sought refuge in their cars, turning up the air conditioning as smoke gave the sky an unusual orange tint. Every now and then, they would turn on the wipers to clean the ash that settled on their windshields.
“I can’t take it anymore,” said Tracy Ketcham, 66, a retired housewife, as she sat in her car outside the church. She said she was looking for some peace and quiet when she moved from Orange County in Southern California to the rural enclave of Greenville nine years ago.
“I’m studying the Bible – now I can’t help but think it’s the end of days,” Ms. Ketcham said. The lack of privacy in the shelter, she said, coupled with reports of PG&E involvement and the lack of reliable information on the duration of this disaster, put her at edge. .
“Maybe all of this is a sign that I should go home no matter the risk,” said Ms Ketcham, who lives alone. “All the waiting, the crying kids, the damn heat here in town. It must be better than here.
As if to signal the drought conditions that are fueling wildfires across much of the West, temperatures have hovered around 100 degrees this week in areas around the Dixie Fire. The blaze has grown so much that in Sacramento, the state capital a three-hour drive from Quincy, smoke from Dixie Fire has raised concerns this week about deteriorating air quality. Authorities have urged residents of Sacramento with respiratory problems or heart disease to limit outdoor exposure.
“It’s like we’re being drawn into something we can’t control,” said Scott Ludwig, who evacuated the mobile home park with Ms Bowen and their two children.
Mr Ludwig, a former carnival worker who now makes do with disability benefits, said he wanted answers from PG&E. “It’s insulting to still have to pay an electricity bill to a company that doesn’t learn from its own mistakes.
Putting out a cigarette as he stood by the entrance to the shelter, he gazed at the thousands of logs stacked nearby – a reminder of how much Quincy relies on the trees that are now ablaze.
“We have no idea if we’ll have to evacuate again,” Mr. Ludwig said. “Look around, there is a lot to burn. If the fire reaches this place, we are just roast ducks.
Annie karni contributed reports.
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