The nation’s largest utility reported to California regulators that Pacific Gas & Electric equipment may have been involved in the start of the massive Dixie Fire burning in the Sierra Nevada.
In a report filed with the California Public Utilities Commission on Sunday, PG&E stated that a repairman responding to a circuit outage on July 13 discovered blown fuses in a conductor atop a pole, a tree leaning into the conductor, and a fire at the base of the tree.
The Dixie Fire has spread to nearly 47 square miles (122 square kilometers), most of which is in remote wilderness. According to the utility, investigators from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have collected equipment from the site. PG&E equipment has been repeatedly linked to major wildfires, including one that ravaged the town of Paradise and killed 85 people in 2018.
The Dixie Fire is one of dozens of wildfires raging across the parched West.
The devastating Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned over 476 square miles (1,210 square kilometers), an area roughly the size of Los Angeles. The fire, which was burning just north of the California state line, was 25 percent contained.
Meteorologists forecast critical fire weather through at least Monday, with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon. “With the very dry fuels, any thunderstorm has the potential to ignite new fire starts,” tweeted the National Weather Service in Sacramento, California.
Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate, including 2,000 people who live in rugged terrain near lakes and wildlife refuges near the fire, which has destroyed at least 67 homes and 100 outbuildings and threatens many more.
In the last 30 years, climate change has made the West much warmer and drier, and it will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. According to firefighters, the conditions in July are more typical of late summer or fall. Pyrocumulus clouds — literally translated as “fire clouds” — hampered efforts to contain the Dixie Fire on Sunday, where flames spread in remote areas with steep terrain crews couldn’t easily reach, officials said. In rural communities near the Feather River Canyon, new evacuation orders have been issued. Although no structures were destroyed, more than 800 were threatened.
A wildfire south of Lake Tahoe jumped a highway, prompting additional evacuations, the closure of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada.
As of Sunday night, the Tamarack Fire, which was started by lightning on July 4, had charred approximately 28.5 square miles (74 square kilometers) of dry brush and timber. The fire was threatening Markleeville, a small town near the California-Nevada border. According to authorities, it has destroyed at least two structures.
A notice posted Saturday on the website of the 103-mile (165-kilometer) Death Ride said several communities in the area had been evacuated and that all bike riders should leave the area. Thousands of bikers and spectators were stranded in the small town and racing to get out when the fire broke out.
Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near town on Friday in preparation for her husband’s ninth ride when they were told to leave. They had been watching the smoke develop throughout the day, but were caught off guard by the fire’s rapid spread.
“It happened so quickly,” Pennington remarked. “We left our tents, hammock, and some foods behind, but we got most of our belongings, stuffed our two kids in the car, and drove away.”
Natural features in the area act as a wind funnel, feeding the flames and making them unpredictable, according to officials.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, approximately 70 active large fires and complexes of multiple blazes have burned nearly 1,659 square miles (4,297 square kilometers) in the United States. According to the United States Forest Service, at least 16 major fires were burning in the Pacific Northwest alone.