Pacific Gas Electric (PGE) equipment may have been involved in the start of the big Dixie Fire burning in the Sierra Nevada, the nation’s largest utility reported to California regulators.
PGE said in a report on Sunday to the California Public Utilities Commission that a repairman responding to a circuit outage on July 13 spotted blown fuses in a conductor atop a pole, a tree leaning into the conductor and fire at the base of the tree.
The Dixie Fire has grown to nearly 122sq kilometres (47sq miles), largely in remote wilderness that is difficult to reach. The utility said investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have collected equipment from the location.
PGE equipment has repeatedly been linked to major wildfires, including a 2018 fire that ravaged the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.
The Dixie Fire is among dozens burning in the parched West.
The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 1,210sq km (476sq miles), an area about the size of Los Angeles. The blaze just north of the California state line was 25 percent contained.
The Oregon Department of Forestry said Bootleg threatened more than 3,100 homes, and that it had destroyed 67 so far. Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire.
No relief is in sight. Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday with lightning possible in both California and southern Oregon.
“With the very dry fuels, any thunderstorm has the potential to ignite new fire starts,” the National Weather Service in Sacramento, California, said on Twitter.
A Fire Weather Watch continues for much of NorCal Today-Monday. With the very dry fuels, any thunderstorm has the potential to ignite new fire starts. Stay up to date with the forecast. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/WJTDY9i0bq
— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) July 18, 2021
Mandatory evacuations of several small towns and other areas in the path of the fire have forced hundreds of people to leave their homes.
Thousands have been ordered to evacuate, including some 2,000 people who live in rugged terrain among lakes and wildlife refuges near the fire, which has burned at least 67 homes and 100 outbuildings while threatening many more.
Climate change has made the western United States much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Firefighters said these conditions in July are more typical of late summer or fall.
Pyrocumulus clouds – literally translated as “fire clouds” – complicated containment efforts Sunday for the Dixie Fire, where flames spread in remote areas with steep terrain crews cannot easily reach, officials said. New evacuation orders were issued in rural communities near the Feather River Canyon. No structures had been destroyed but more than 800 were threatened.
A growing wildfire south of Lake Tahoe jumped a highway, prompting more evacuation orders, the closure of the Pacific Crest Trail and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada.
The Tamarack Fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 4, had charred about 74sq km (28.5sq miles) of dry brush and timber as of Sunday night. The blaze was threatening Markleeville, a small town close to the California-Nevada state line. It has destroyed at least two structures, authorities said.
A notice posted Saturday on the 165-km (103-mile) Death Ride’s website said several communities in the area had been evacuated and ordered all bike riders to clear the area. The fire left thousands of bikers and spectators stranded in the small town and racing to get out.