The biggest fire in California, which has already devoured an area of vegetation equivalent to the city of Chicago, is so large that it now generates its own climate, at the risk of making the task of the firefighters who fight it even more difficult. About 5,400 firefighters were mobilized on Monday, July 26, in the face of the Dixie Fire flames in the forests of northern California.
This blaze has only grown since mid-July, fueled by stifling heat, alarming drought and continuous winds. The Dixie Fire is so big that in recent days it has created clouds called “pyrocumulus” which cause lightning, high winds and in return feed the fire.
“The day of tomorrow [lundi] could be very difficult: if these clouds are high enough, they have the potential to produce lightning ”, alerted Sunday Julia Ruthford, the meteorologist assigned to the monitoring of this blaze. Rescuers have been dispatched from as far away as Florida to lend a hand.
Despite its size, the Dixie Fire has so far mainly progressed in extremely secluded areas, which explains why only dozens of structures (houses and other buildings) have so far been destroyed.
The signs of drought are everywhere
Progressing on extremely steep paths, firefighters are sometimes assisted by a train, from which they can spray areas otherwise inaccessible. But, in these weather conditions, “Embers can easily fly more than a kilometer from the fire”, explains Rick Carhart, spokesperson for the fire department. The places that receive evacuees, such as the village of Quincy, are themselves threatened.
Wildfires are common in California – so much so that locals sometimes wonder what is left to burn. But, due to climate change, this summer is particularly violent. A golf course with yellowed grass, boaters swimming in a lake that is only a shadow of itself … In the region, signs of the drought that feeds the blazes are everywhere.
The fires have already devastated three times more vegetation this year than they did at this time in 2020, yet the worst year in California history for fires.
According to a preliminary investigation, the fall of a tree on one of the thousands of electric cables which outline the American landscape is at the origin of the Dixie Fire. This line is owned by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), a private operator already guilty of causing Camp Fire, a blaze that nearly wiped the town of Paradise off the map and killed 86 people in 2018, in an area located a few kilometers southwest of Dixie Fire.