Dixie Fire Approaches Town Home of 18K People, Though Evacuation Warning Not Yet Issued

Afternoon gusts on Monday propelled the Dixie Fire toward Susanville, a town of 18,000 people, in California's Lassen County, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the approach of the largest single wildfire in California's recorded history, an evacuation of the former mining and logging town has not yet been issued. Susanville, located in the Sierra Nevada, houses two state prisons, a federal prison and a casino, AP reported.

The nearby mountain community of Janesville was placed under an evacuation order as the fire moved northward Monday. While Susanville residents have not yet been ordered to vacate, a statement from the local police department warned the town to "be alert and be ready to evacuate" if the fire becomes a threat.

Due to afternoon winds that could reach 35 mph, the National Weather Service put the area under a fire weather watch through Thursday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Dixie Fire Approaches Janesville
The Dixie Fire moved closer to Susanville in California's Lassen County on Monday and prompted evacuation orders for nearby Janesville. Above, firefighters spray water on trees as they burn along Highway 395 in the early morning of August 17, 2021, near Janesville. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Bulldozers had cut fire lines in the path of the northward-trending blaze but "a lot of our lines are getting tested now," fire spokesman David Janssen said.

The weather forecast prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to warn that it might cut off power to 48,000 customers in portions of 18 counties from Tuesday evening through Wednesday afternoon to prevent winds from knocking down or hurling debris into power lines and sparking new wildfires. Most of those customers are in Butte and Shasta counties, which have seen a number of deadly and devastating wildfires in recent years, including the Dixie Fire.

Investigations are continuing, but Pacific Gas & Electric has notified utility regulators that the Dixie and Fly fires may have been caused by trees falling into its power lines. The Dixie Fire began near the town of Paradise, which was devastated by a 2018 wildfire ignited by PG&E equipment during strong winds. Eighty-five people died.

The Dixie Fire has scorched more than 900 square miles (2,331 square kilometers) in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades since it ignited on July 13 and eventually merged with a smaller blaze called the Fly Fire. It's less than a third contained by fire lines.

Ongoing damage surveys have counted more than 1,100 buildings destroyed, including 625 homes, and more than 14,000 structures remained threatened. Numerous evacuation orders were in effect.

The small lumber town of Westwood was still under evacuation orders and protective lines were holding but the blaze remained a threat.

"There are still some people staying in there," Janssen said. "We're hoping it won't turn bad in there and we have to change our mission from protecting structures to saving lives....Our biggest concern right now is that people aren't taking the evacuation seriously."

California was dealing with several other massive fires, including one that started on Saturday southeast of the Dixie Fire in El Dorado County that had grown to about 3.5 square miles (9 square kilometers) and prompted evacuations.

The Dixie Fire is the largest of nearly 100 major wildfires burning across more than a dozen Western states that have seen historic drought and weeks of high temperatures and dry weather that have left trees, brush and grasslands as flammable as tinder.

Two dozen fires were burning in Montana and nearly 50 more in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, according to the National Fire Interagency Center.

In Montana, a fire near Hays that began on Monday had burned about 8 square miles (20 square kilometers) and residents in and around the tiny enclave of Zortman were told to be on notice for possible evacuation.

The U.S. Forest Service said last week that it is operating in crisis mode, with more than double the number of firefighters deployed than at the same time a year ago. More than 25,000 firefighters, support personnel and management teams were assigned to U.S. blazes.

Climate change has made the U.S. West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.

Dixie Fire Firefighter
The Dixie Fire moved closer to Susanville in California's Lassen County on Monday and prompted evacuation orders for nearby Janesville. Above, a firefighter battles the Dixie Fire along Highway 89 in Lassen National Forest, California, on August 16, 2021. Noah Berger/AP Photo