A firefighter blasting the flames of the Dixie Fire on Aug. 10, 2021. Photos courtesy of Cal Fire/Flickr. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.
California’s largest single fire in state history surpassed 500,000 acres Wednesday, Aug. 11. The Dixie Fire has forced more than 30,000 residents to flee the area and has drawn thousands of firefighting personnel from local, state, and federal agencies to battle the quickly spreading flames, despite the injury of four firefighters last week.
“We’re all tired, all the resources here have been here for a long, long time,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection public information officer Edwin Zuniga told Coffee or Die Magazine. “I’ve been here since the very start, but we’ve had two days in a row where containment has gone up. So that’s good news … our firefighters know that their work is finally paying off. And it’s going to continue to pay off.”
The Dixie Fire started July 13 in Northern California. Fueled by strong winds and extremely dry vegetation, it is now the biggest single fire in state history, scorching an area more than twice as big as the city of Dallas, Texas. The only larger fire was the August Complex in 2020, in which 38 separate blazes sparked by lightning strikes burned more than 1 million acres.
More than 1,000 buildings have been destroyed, and dozens more have been damaged, Zuniga said. Protecting the community — both life and property — is foremost in firefighters’ minds.
#RT @CAL_FIRE: More than 9,700 personnel continue to fight 11 major wildfires/complexes in California. We all have a responsibility to prevent wildfires through proper maintenance and use of campfires, vehicles, outdoor equipment and more. #OneLessSpark… pic.twitter.com/a0kxwCARvu
— CAL FIRE PIO (@CALFIRE_PIO) August 11, 2021
“Every morning, we brief our firefighters, and we push one message … that we want to make sure that no more structures are destroyed or damaged, or no more communities continue to be threatened by this fire,” Zuniga said. “Our purpose here is to protect the people in these communities being affected, protect their homes, protect the communities, protect their resources and everything else that they have.”
Thousands of firefighters are hard at work trying to contain the Dixie Fire. Cal Fire has assigned 6,000 “personnel” — defined by the agency as firetrucks, water tanks, helicopters, hand crews, and other resources — to fight the fire. Each fire engine typically has three to four firefighters and each hand crew can have up to 17 people, Zuniga explained.
The Dixie Fire hasn’t claimed any lives, but four firefighters from a hand crew were injured last weekend when a large branch fell on top of them. All four were transported to the closest hospital, with three being discharged within 24 hours. One remains hospitalized, but Zuniga did not provide further information about the actual injuries.
Pacific Gas & Electric said its equipment might have contributed to the ignition of both the Dixie Fire and the much smaller Fly Fire, according to reports from The Washington Post. Cal Fire lists the cause of the Dixie Fire as still under investigation.
— CAL FIRE PIO (@CALFIRE_PIO) August 10, 2021
A serial arsonist has ignited additional concerns for firefighters along the borders of the Dixie Fire.
Former college professor Gary Maynard has been accused of an arson spree in July and August, attempting to trap firefighters with his fires, according to court documents NPR obtained. Court documents allege Maynard entered the evacuation zone and set fires behind the crews fighting the Dixie Fire. A US Forest Service agent allegedly found Maynard with his vehicle stuck near a wildfire that had just started. He took photos of Maynard, his car, and his tire-tread pattern, which investigators say ties Maynard to multiple wildfires in the area.
Maynard is in custody, with authorities arguing against the possibility of bail, NPR reported.
Zuniga said crews wouldn’t stop until the Dixie Fire is extinguished and the evacuated communities can start the rebuilding process.
“We want to make sure that we can bring them back home as fast as possible,” Zuniga said. “So we’re going to continue to work hard, around the clock, to make sure that happens.”
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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