A wind-driven wildfire tore through a Northern California mountain town, leaving much of the downtown in ashes as crews braced for another explosive run of flames in the midst of dangerous weather.
The Dixie Fire, swollen by bone-dry vegetation and 40-mph gusts, raged through the northern Sierra Nevada town of Greenville Wednesday evening. Fire officials confirmed that some buildings were destroyed, offering no details.
However, a photographer on assignment for The Associated Press described seeing a gas station, hotel and bar burned to the ground.
The town, which dates to California’s Gold Rush era, has some buildings more than a century old.
As the fire’s north and eastern sides exploded, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office issued a Facebook posting warning the town’s approximately 800 residents: “You are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now!”
The three-week-old blaze was the state’s largest wildfire and had blackened well over 435 square miles (1,126 square kilometers), burning dozens of homes before making its new run.
Early in the week, some 5,000 firefighters had made progress on the blaze, saving some threatened homes, bulldozing pockets of unburned vegetation and managing to surround a third of the perimeter.
“We did everything we could,” fire spokesman Mitch Matlow said. “Sometimes it’s just not enough.”
More fire engines and bulldozers were being ordered to bolster the fight, he said. On Wednesday, the fire grew by thousands of acres and an additional 4,000 people were ordered to evacuate, bringing nearly 26,500 people in several counties under evacuation orders, he said.
Red flag weather conditions of high heat, low humidity and gusty afternoon and evening winds erupted Wednesday and were expected to be a continued threat through Thursday evening.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.