PG&E threatens power shutoffs as Dixie fire rages in Northern California
Strong winds are expected to plague the Dixie fire burn area, which has exploded to nearly 570,000 acres in Northern California. PG&E has said its equipment might have sparked the Dixie blaze, which is the second-largest fire in state history.
As the Dixie fire continues to rage, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced it could cut power for roughly 39,000 residents across 16 counties in Northern California on Tuesday night to reduce the risk of wildfires from energized power lines. Santa Cruz County is not on the list.
Strong southwest winds are expected to arrive in the northern part of the state beginning Monday, colliding with searing temperatures and parched vegetation — a cocktail of conditions known to stoke extreme fire behavior.
A red flag warning for the Dixie fire burn area will go into effect at 3 p.m. Monday and last through 10 p.m. Tuesday, with gusts expected to top out at 35 mph Tuesday. Temperatures will hover in the mid-90s, potentially hitting the low triple-digits in some areas.
PG&E has said its equipment might have sparked the massive Dixie fire, which broke out July 13 near the spot where a tree fell into the utility’s power line, as well as another blaze that later merged with the Dixie fire. According to the utility, it took a worker about 10 hours to reach the remote site and observe flames.
As of Monday morning, the Dixie fire had leapt to a monstrous 569,707 acres, growing roughly 50,000 acres since Friday. After burning for more than a month, it is still only 31% contained. The blaze is the second-largest wildfire in California history.
Smoke generated from the blaze continues to plague
The utility said in a news release that the planned shutoffs are a preemptive step to tamp down risk amid the dangerous weather conditions.
Most of the residents in the potential shutoff area — about 27,000 — are in Butte and Shasta counties, PG&E said in a news release. However, residents in 14 other counties — Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Napa, Plumas, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba — could also be affected.
The mercury could soar above 100 degrees in parts of Butte and Shasta County on Monday. Smoke will envelop both counties, and plumes continue to plague areas far from the burn areas. A 48-hour smoke advisory warning of unhealthy air quality was issued for the Antelope Valley on Monday — an area more than 400 miles south of the lower portion of the Dixie fire. Santa Cruz County has seen some haze but the marine layer has so far kept unhealthy conditions at bay — something that could change later in the week, according to IQAir data.
Although the cause of the fire remains under review, prosecutors in at least two counties are investigating PG&E for potential criminal charges, saying it should have been aware of the high risk of fire in the canyon. It is the same canyon where PG&E equipment ignited the 2018 Camp fire. In that blaze, the utility pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter after the town of Paradise was decimated.
PG&E had planned to bury the power line that might have started the Dixie fire as part of a safety campaign announced in the wake of the Camp fire, but work on the project hadn’t yet begun.
The Dixie fire has torched parts of Plumas, Lassen, Tehama and Butte counties, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
The blaze leveled the remote Gold Rush town of Greenville and has destroyed at least 1,173 structures, including more than 630 homes, according to the latest incident report. More than 14,800 structures remain threatened by the flames.
Another blaze dubbed the Morgan fire merged with a northwestern portion of the Dixie fire on Sunday, growing it by several hundred acres, fire spokesperson David Janssen said.
With fierce winds approaching, there is concern the blaze will continue its relentless expansion.
“A lot of these lines will be tested today,” Janssen said Monday, “and it’s going to be pushing pretty hard up there on that north end.”
Toward the north lies the Lassen National Forest, as well as the Lassen Volcanic National Park, where flames arrived in early August and forced the park’s closure.
“It’s a treasure up there,” Janssen said of the park, noting that the fire has rapidly expanded through forested areas.
The Dixie fire has destroyed more than $1 billion worth of timber, and an additional $1 billion is still threatened, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
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Several other wildfires are ravaging Northern California, including a pair burning to the northwest of the Dixie fire that were sparked by lightning in late July when thunderstorms passed through the area.
The Monument fire had chewed through 97,287 acres by Monday and was 10% contained.
A new evacuation order was issued for the Barker Mountain area and northwest of Hayfork Summit, with several additional places under evacuation warnings. Details can be found on the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
The McFarland fire — now at 51,909 acres and 68% contained — continued to prompt its own evacuations Monday in three counties.
Shasta County Sheriff’s Office announced mandatory evacuations for the community of Platina, including all residences and roadways from the Trinity-Shasta county line to the Shasta-Tehama county line.
Nevada Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow tweeted a photo of the McFarland fire glowing orange over her husband’s cabin early Monday, followed several hours later by an image of evacuations that were underway.
“Be safe everyone!” she wrote.
Times staff writer Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.