Firefighters in ‘crisis mode’ as month-long wildfire threatens thousands of homes

A month-long wildfire ravaging forestlands in northern California has lurched towards a small lumber town, threatening to destroy thousands of homes.

Fire crews have been using bulldozers to build lines, in a bid to keep the blaze, known at the Dixie fire, from reaching the town of Westwood.

The entire town of approximately 1,700 people was placed under evacuation orders on 5 August, as the blaze inched closer.

The US forest service is in crisis mode. Pic: AP
Image:The US Forest Service is in crisis mode. Pic: AP

More than 6,000 firefighters alone are battling the Dixie fire, which has destroyed more than 1,000 homes, businesses and other structures.

Approximately the size of Tokyo, at 845 square miles, it is the largest wildfire burning in the US and is 31% contained.

The cause of the fire has not been determined although Pacific Gas and Electric has said the fire may have been started when a tree fell on one of its power lines.

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More than 100 wildfires are burning in America’s western states, as hot, bone-dry weather turned forests, brushlands, meadows and pastures into tinder. There is a danger of new fires erupting due to unstable weather conditions.

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The US Forest Service said it is operating in crisis mode, with roughly 21,000 firefighters working on the ground – more than double the number sent to contain fires this time a year ago.

“Mother Nature just kind of keeps throwing us obstacles our way,” said Edwin Zuniga, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which was working with the Forest Service to surround the Dixie fire.

The Dixie fire is approximately the size of Tokyo. Pic: AP
Image:The Dixie fire is approximately the size of Tokyo. Pic: AP
The Dixie fire has been burning in California. Pic: AP
Image:The Dixie fire has been burning in California. Pic: AP

The Monument Fire – one of three large blazes – has destroyed a dozen homes and threatened a further 2,500.

Firefighters said on Friday that flying embers have ignited spot fires as far as a mile away.

Smoke from the fires has driven air pollution levels to unhealthy or very unhealthy levels in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

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Climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, scientists have warned.

This summer fires have also destroyed parts of western Canada and Europe – including in Greece, Italy and Turkey.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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