Two Northern California wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes, left people unaccounted for or injured and prompted additional evacuations Thursday – all in less than 48 hours.
The Dixie Fire – now the largest active fire in the nation – has destroyed more than 100 homes and is expected to do more damage, according to Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns. He said authorities were searching for four people who were unaccounted for in the area Thursday.
The Dixie Fire has consumed 432,813 acres – an area 3.5 times the size of Lake Tahoe, making it the third largest fire in California history.
The fire, which has burned an area equivalent to the size of New York’s Central Park every 11 minutes for 24 hours, is 35% contained.
Plumas National Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton described “truly frightening fire behavior” that has delivered even veteran firefighters into “uncharted territory.”
“What I am telling folks at this time is if a plume of smoke is anywhere near your direction and you’re still miles away from it, you need to prepare [to leave] even if you haven’t heard that you are under a warning,” Johns said.
The historic town of Greenville in Plumas County has been nearly leveled to the ground. In the community’s commercial center at Main Street and State Route 89, nearly every business appeared to have collapsed or been gutted, with flames still flickering in the debris up and down the sides of both streets, video recorded Wednesday by storm chaser Brandon Clement showed.
The fire’s increased activity promoted officials to issue an additional evacuation order in Lassen County. The latest orders apply to areas north and east of Mountain Meadows Reservoir, according to the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office.
Approximately 80 miles south, the River Fire raging in Nevada and Placer counties has obliterated at least 76 structures and at least 20 structures have been damaged, according to Cal Fire’s Thursday night update. Damage assessment has not yet been finalized because inspectors are unable to access all affected areas as the fire grows.
Two residents and one firefighter have been injured in the fire, Cal Fire said, adding that more than 800 personnel are fighting the blaze.
In Placer County, nearly 2,400 people are under evacuation, Placer County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Nelson Resendes said Wednesday. In Nevada County, at least 4,200 residents are under an evacuation order or warning, Nevada County Sheriff Shannan Moon said.
“If you receive an evacuation warning, please go. And if you receive an order, get out. Do not take your chances … We do not need you in there; you’re taking your life in your hands,” Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell said Wednesday at a news conference.
The blaze has swelled to 2,600 acres Thursday from 1,400 acres the previous day. Containment stood at 15% Thursday, up from zero on Wednesday.
“Firefighters took advantage of the cooler temperatures today and made good progress on building containment lines around the fire. A combination of additional hand crews, ground resources, and aircraft today, increased containment to 15% while keeping fire spread acreage to a minimum,” according to Cal Fire.
But fire officials warned there is a possibility of increased fire behavior Friday due to an expected rise in temperatures and gusty winds.
Overall, 11 new large fires have been reported in the US since Thursday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That brings the nationwide total to 107 large fires.
The latest fires are spread across the northwestern US, with new blazes reported in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, according to NIFC. Active fires had burned 2,083,667 acres as of Friday.
The most damage has been in California and Oregon, where fires have consumed more than 1.1 million acres in the two states.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Andy Rose, Jason Hanna and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.