Dixie Fire: Crews keep 700,000-acre blaze from Janesville, Taylorsville, but challenges loom

The massive Dixie Fire marked five weeks on Tuesday since it began to burn in the Lassen National Forest.

It’s displaced thousands of Californians living in mountain communities. It’s wiped out a Gold Rush-era town, and it continues to be a menace to several other small towns.

The National Weather Service warned Friday will be smoky, which could make it tough for crews to battle the fire from the air.

The San Bernardino Old Cajon professional hand crew takes a break to hydrate during the response to a fire emergency at Janesville Grade, CA, Aug. 18, 2021. Benjamin Chambers/The Republic

8:30 a.m.: Fire surpasses 700,000 acres, but growth slows

The Dixie Fire surged past 700,000 acres overnight, but the pace of the fire slowed, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday.

The nation’s largest wildfire now stands at 700,630 acres, a slight increase from 699,666 acres Thursday night. The fire remains 35% contained.

O, officials said the fire remained active overnight in both the west and east zones.

As crews aggressively fight the blaze near Janesville, “firefighters are being challenged by spots outside the line and steep, inaccessible terrain,” the Friday morning incident update said.

The fire, which has been burning for more than a month, has destroyed 1,225 structures, including 660 homes, and more than 16,000 structures remained threatened.

4 a.m.: Dixie Fire threat continues for small mountain towns

With hoses, rakes and other equipment draped over their shoulders, dozens of firefighters climbed over a ridge near Janesville Thursday night in an attempt to stop the Dixie Fire from reaching the town.

The glow of the fire burned bright through the trees as the temperature cooled and the plume of smoke billowing above the mountain cleared.

Crews with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection laid hoses and cleared brush to create a barrier that would prevent the fire from creeping closer to nearby homes.

The monstrous fire, which already has cost about $285 million to suppress, covers nearly 1,100 square miles in five counties from the Sierra Nevada to the Cascade Range and was 35% contained as of Thursday.

Seen in a long exposure photograph, embers light up hillsides as the Dixie Fire burns near Milford in Lassen County, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Crews are stretched thin as California gets deeper into wildfire season. The coronavirus pandemic also is giving exhausted firefighters problems. Some firefighters are out sick with COVID-19, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Fueled by hot, dry and windy conditions, the Dixie Fire has been burning since July 13.

On the eastern front, the fire threatened the towns of Janesville and Milford as it repeatedly jumped Highway 395.

Firefighters have been aggressively fighting the fire, constructing a fire line from Highway 395 to the Walker Fire scar. The 2019 wildfire 2019 burned near the Genesee Valley in the Plumas National Forest.

An evacuation order has been issued for the area.

Crews along the highway worked to protect homes as the fire scorched the surrounding land on Thursday. Public safety personnel in the area said some homes were lost and residents were seeking to return to the area to see the damage though they cautioned the evacuation order is still in effect and access is restricted.

Water tankers, fire trucks and ambulances were parked at a staging area on nearby Janesville Grade where firefighters worked their way up the mountain.

Air tankers overhead dropped fire retardant.

Cal Fire spokesperson Steve McQuillan said after heavy smoke initially prevented the use of air support, firefighters were able to use air tankers on Wednesday.

Those tankers dropped 150,000 gallons of water and 60,000 gallons of fire retardant, but no estimates were yet available for Thursday’s air attacks.

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