Strong Winds Push Nation's Largest Wildfire Toward California City

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Strong Winds Push Nation's Largest Wildfire Toward California City
The Dixie Fire is within a few miles of the Northern California town of Susanville, which is home to about 18,000 residents.

Firefighters faced more dangerously windy weather Tuesday as they struggled to keep the nation's largest wildfire from moving toward a Northern California county seat and other small mountain communities.

Forecasters issued red flag warnings of critical fire weather conditions including gusts up to 40 mph from late morning to near midnight.

Winds spawned by a new weather system arrived Monday afternoon and pushed the Dixie Fire within a few miles of Susanville, population about 18,000, and prompted evacuation orders for the small nearby mountain community of Janesville, fire officials said.

Susanville is the seat of Lassen County and the largest city that the Dixie Fire, named for the road where it started, has approached since it broke out last month. The former Sierra Nevada logging and mining town has two state prisons, a nearby federal lockup and a casino.

Ash fell from the advancing fire and a Police Department statement urged residents “to be alert and be ready to evacuate” if the fire threatens the city, although no formal evacuation warning had been issued.

The weather forecast prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to warn that it might cut off power to 48,000 customers in portions of 18 California counties from Tuesday evening through Wednesday afternoon to prevent winds from knocking down or hurling debris into power lines and sparking new wildfires. Most of those customers are in Butte and Shasta counties, which have seen a number of deadly and devastating wildfires in recent years, including the Dixie Fire.

The Dixie Fire has scorched more than 900 square miles in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern cascades since it ignited on July 13 and eventually merged with a smaller blaze. 

It's less than 33% contained and ongoing damage surveys have counted more than 1,100 buildings destroyed, including 627 homes. More than 14,000 structures remained threatened.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.