"We lost Greenville tonight," Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said in a Facebook video on Wednesday, referring to the historic gold rush town in his Northern California district. "There's just no words." The raging Dixie fire, now the sixth largest in California state history at 361,812 acres, tore through Greenville late Wednesday afternoon, and an estimated 75 percent of the town's structures were destroyed by Thursday, including Main Street and its 1880s buildings.
"I'm not going to say total (destruction) because not every structure is gone," said Dan Kearns, a volunteer firefighter in Greenville, home to about 1,000 residents. "But the town, it's catastrophically destroyed." The overwhelmed fire crew "did everything we could," fire spokesman Mitch Matlow lamented. "Sometimes it's just not enough."
Greenville was mostly destroyed by another fire in 1881, then quickly rebuilt. Most of the remaining buildings from that rebuild are now ash. "These are not the normal fires anymore," said Jake Cagle, operations section chief for the fire. "It's just intense fire behavior, and it's not what we're used to." Six of the seven largest wildfires ever recorded in California have occurred since 2020, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Dixie fire ignited near a power station in Feather River Canyon on July 14, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it's equipment may have started the blaze. It has already destroyed 67 structures and more than 13,800 are in danger, Cal Fire said. On Thursday, the fire forced the closure of the Lassen Volcanic National Park.
A new wildfire, the 2,600-acre River fire, broke out Wednesday in Nevada and Placer counties, west of Lake Tahoe. It has already destroyed at least 76 structures, primarily in the town of Colfax. That fire began at the Bear River Campground and has forced 5,200 people to evacuate.
The wildfire season came early and hard in the parched West. More than 20,000 firefighters and support personnel are working to contain 97 large and active wildfires in 13 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.