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California's largest fire burns homes as blazes scorch West

California's largest wildfire merged with a smaller blaze and destroyed homes in remote areas with limited access for firefighters, as numerous other fires gained strength and threatened property across the US West.

California's largest fire burns homes as blazes scorch West

Flames from the Dixie Fire consume a home in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, California on Jul 24, 2021. The fire destroyed multiple residences as it tore through the area. (Photo: AP/Noah Berger)

INDIAN FALLS, California: California's largest wildfire merged with a smaller blaze and destroyed homes in remote areas with limited access for firefighters, as numerous other fires gained strength and threatened property across the US West.

The massive Dixie Fire, which started Jul 14, had already levelled over a dozen houses and other structures when it combined with the Fly Fire and tore through the tiny Northern California community of Indian Falls after dark Saturday.

An updated damage estimate was not available Sunday, though fire officials said the blaze had charred nearly 772 sq km of timber and brush in Plumas and Butte counties. It was 21 per cent contained.

Firefighters carrying hand tools were forced to hike through rugged terrain where engines can't go, said Rick Carhart, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A firefighter passes a burning home as the Dixie Fire flares in Plumas County, California: on Jul 24, 2021. (Photo: AP/Noah Berger)

“It has been burning in extremely steep canyons, some places where it is almost impossible for human beings to set foot on the ground to get in there,” he said. "It’s going to be a long haul.”

Still, crews made progress Saturday by proactively setting fires to rob the main blaze of fuels, Carhart said.

The fire prompted evacuation orders in several small mountain communities and along the west shore of Lake Almanor, a popular resort area. About 10,000 homes remained under threat, officials said.

Seen in a long exposure photograph, the Dixie Fire burns behind a bridge in Plumas County, California, on Jul 25, 2021. (Photo: AP/Noah Berger)

Firefighters also reported progress against the nation’s largest wildfire, the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, containing 46 per cent of the blaze that had consumed nearly 1,657 sq km.

More than 2,200 firefighters battled the blaze, focusing Sunday on constructing containment lines at the north and eastern edges in dense timber. Crews could get a break from rain and higher humidity predicted for this week, said Marcus Kauffman, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The lightning-caused fire has burned 67 homes, mainly cabins, and at least 2,000 houses were under evacuation orders.

READ: More residents flee as fires ravage western Canada, US

Oregon Governor Kate Brown told CNN’s State of the Union that it’s imperative federal and state authorities invest in mitigation such as tree thinning and preventive burns to limit the number of similar massive blazes. But she conceded that “the harsh reality is that we’re going to see more of these wildfires".

“They’re hotter, they’re more fierce, and obviously much more challenging to tackle. And they are a sign of the changing climate impacts,” Brown said Sunday.

Firefighters ride atop a fire train while battling the Dixie Fire in Plumas County, California, on Jul 24, 2021. (Photo: AP/Noah Berger)

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for four northern counties because of wildfires that he said were causing “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.” The proclamation opened the way for more state support.

Such conditions are often from a combination of unusual random, short-term and natural weather patterns heightened by long-term, human-caused climate change. Global warming has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years.

In southwest Montana, officials were focusing on structure protection for three fires amid weather forecasts of rising temperatures, low humidity and westerly winds this week, factors that could produce explosive growth.

READ: Massive wildfires in US West bring haze to East Coast

Crews were trying to protect about 200 homes and cabins and prevent the 144 sq km Trail Creek blaze from reaching the Big Hole National Battlefield in Beaverhead County, fire spokesman Jason Nedlo said. The battlefield site, operated by the National Park Service, has been closed because of the fire threat.

Five federal firefighters were in stable condition Sunday after being burned when swirling winds blew a lightning-caused wildfire back on them in eastern Montana on Thursday. The five were building a defensive line at the Devil’s Creek Fire in Garfield County when the weather shifted suddenly.

Elsewhere in California, the 269 sq km Tamarack fire south of Lake Tahoe continued to burn through timber and chaparral and threatened communities on both sides of the California-Nevada state line. The fire, sparked by lightning Jul 4 in Alpine County, has destroyed at least 10 buildings. It was 27 per cent contained Sunday.

A fire train crosses a bridge as the Dixie Fire burns in Plumas County, California., on Jul 24, 2021. (Photo: AP/Noah Berger)

Heavy smoke from that blaze and the Dixie Fire lowered visibility and may at times ground aircraft providing support for fire crews. The air quality south of Lake Tahoe and across the state line into Nevada deteriorated to very unhealthy levels.

In north-central Washington, firefighters battled two blazes in Okanogan County that threatened hundreds of homes and again caused hazardous air quality conditions Saturday. And in northern Idaho, east of Spokane, Washington, a small fire near the Silverwood Theme Park prompted evacuations Friday evening at the park and in the surrounding area. The theme park was back open Saturday with the fire half contained.

Although hot weather with afternoon winds posed a continued threat of spreading blazes, weekend forecasts also called for a chance of scattered thunderstorms in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and other states. However, forecasters said some could be dry thunderstorms that produce little rain but a lot of lightning, which can spark new blazes.

More than 85 large wildfires were burning around the country, most of them in Western states. They had burned over 1.4 million acres

Source: AP/ec

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