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As two California wildfires merge and a small community is threatened, firefighters face dangerous conditions

Over the weekend two fires — the Dixie and Fly fires in northern California — merged in the Lassen and Plumas National Forests. The combination created the 15th largest fire in state history and prompted evacuation orders for more than 7,800 residents across two counties, California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services spokesman Bryan May told CNN early Tuesday.
The merged fire has burned 198,021 acres and is 22% contained, according to Inciweb. Officials have not yet determined the cause of the fire, which sparked July 13.
Fires across the country have led to air quality issues, evacuations and property damage as a drought continues to hold much of the west in its grip. Air quality warnings were issued in 12 Montana counties Monday due to smoke issues. There are currently 19 large wildfires burning in the state, according to NIFC.

There are 18 million people under heat advisories, with heat indexes above 100 degrees in several areas through at least Tuesday, according to CNN Meteorologist Robert Shackelford. The heat will continue to spread to the east, he said.

The heat is only exacerbating issues for those battling the fires as well as those staying behind to protect their property from the flames.

‘Stressful, scary’ situation

Mandatory evacuations were ordered in Plumas County, California, Sunday as the Dixie fire continued to grow.

“You should leave the area immediately. If you remain emergency personnel may not be able to help you,” an emergency alert from the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office warned.

But one man said he stayed behind to watch his animals and protect his land.

Jon Cappleman told CNN affiliate KCRA that remaining on his property has been challenging.

“It’s very stressful, scary at times. Last night … you could see the glow over that hill right there,” he said. “The firefighters put it out, or knocked it down, to where all of a sudden the glow was gone, and I was just relieved.”

Video from Indian Falls, California, taken by KCRA shows smoldering land, orange-hued skies, and damaged cars and buildings.

Cappleman told the affiliate that conditions have worsened, as thick, acrid smoke fills the skies and road closures prevent him from getting food for his animals.

“The smoke is acid, it burns your lungs. It’s just the oxygen level has dropped, it’s probably only about 85%,” he explained.

Community suffers significant loss in Dixie Fire

The fire has engulfed much of Indian Falls, which sits along CA-89 in California’s Plumas National Forest, northwest of Reno, Nevada.

“It is safe to say that all residents in this small community have been impacted by this fire,” Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns told CNN in an email Monday.

Burned vehicles smolder at a property during the Dixie fire in the Indian Falls area of unincorporated Plumas County.

“We have been unable to conduct an actual assessment of this area, at this time, due to active fire in the area as well as hazards,” Johns said. “That being said there was substantial structure loss.”

The sheriff estimated 18 of 25 full time homes in Indian Falls were lost in the fire.

Plumas National Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton said Sunday, “There are people who have lost homes. These are real impacts in our community … These are family, friends, some of these may be folks who are out working on the line.”

Heat wave bringing triple-digit temperatures from the Pacific to the Gulf Coast this week

The span of the Dixie Fire is huge, with the outside perimeter of the fire running about 82 miles in length, according to Cal Fire Chief Mike Wink.

“It’s 80 miles from Chico to Sacramento, you have approximately 5,500 firefighters spread out from here to Sacramento,” he explained.

Firefighters battling dangerous conditions

Road closures have also been an issue as firefighters try to gain an advantage over the flames.

In a video update posted to the Lassen National Forest Facebook page Monday night, Fire Behavior analyst Dennis Burns said the fire went over a road firefighters had planned to use to bring more firefighting resources to Taylorsville.

The steep terrain and extreme fire behavior has created dangerous conditions for firefighters, including hotshot crews working on the Dixie Fire.

“Steep slopes, lot of rolling materials, a lot of dead trees coming down, so I can’t overemphasize the danger that these firefighters are facing in trying to keep this up,” Burns explained.

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He said crews have to be methodical so that they don’t make the fire worse with spotting, which is when a fire produces sparks or embers that are carried by the wind and start new fires.

“We want to go really slow, because if you generate a lot heat, that’s going to add to the spotting problem,” Burns said, adding that conditions are favorable right now for gaining the upper hand as winds remain calm.

“What we’ve seen is, even without a lot of wind, spotting is an issue, “Burns said. “The more heat you put to it, the farther those embers go. So by using low intensity fire in the absence of wind, which we have because its so smoky here, the chances of us holding those backfire operations stand a much better chance of success.”

CNN’s Jenn Selva, Stella Chan, and Robert Shackelford contributed to this report.



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