A small California town was largely destroyed Tuesday, the second mountain community nearly leveled by a blaze in two weeks in the state, as firefighters worked to contain multiple wildfires.
The Dixie Fire spurred a new round of evacuation orders as fierce winds helped it grow and push the monstrous blaze within about 8 miles of Susanville, California, population about 18,000.
Late Tuesday, Pacific Gas & Electric said it began shutting off power to about 51,000 customers in 18 Northern California counties. The utility company announced that it enacted the shutoffs as a precaution against gusting winds damaging power lines and sparking more blazes in a tinder-dry region struggling with wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes.
To the southeast, a small blaze called the Caldor Fire exploded through Grizzly Flats, California, a town of about 1,200.
Very few homes were left standing in Grizzly Flats, where streets were littered with downed power lines and poles. Houses were reduced to smoldering ash and twisted metal, only chimneys rising above the ruins. A post office and elementary school were destroyed.
Fire officials estimated that at least 50 homes had burned in the area since the fire erupted Saturday, and two people were hospitalized with serious injuries.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in El Dorado County. Authorities considered closing El Dorado National Forest, where the 46-square-mile fire burns.
It's the second Northern California community destroyed by a blaze this month as thousands of residents fled without assurances their homes would be there when they returned. The Dixie Fire ravaged the gold rush town of Greenville on Aug. 4.
The blaze left a trail of destruction in the historic downtown area that featured buildings built in the 1800s and throughout the gold rush of 1849. A gas station, hotel and bar were among many fixtures destroyed by flames.
An abandoned town: Haunting photos of California wildfire aftermath
Dixie Fire approaches large town
The Dixie Fire, the nation's largest, has exploded since it began July 13. At 993 square miles, it is the largest single wildfire in state history and the largest of nearly 100 major wildfires burning across more than a dozen Western states.
The wildfires, in large part, have been fueled by high temperatures, strong winds and dry weather that left trees, brush and grasslands as flammable as tinder.
Numerous resources were put into Susanville, the seat of Lassen County and the largest city the Dixie Fire has approached. Its 15,000 residents were warned to be ready to evacuate, said Mark Brunton, an operations section chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The growth of the fire slowed overnight Tuesday. Containment on the Dixie Fire increased to 33%, slightly up from 31%, officials said Wednesday.
Firefighters defended homes and pushed back the Dixie Fire from the community of Janesville after spot fires took off Monday night. It was a fight to keep it back Tuesday as winds pushed the flames toward Susanville and Janesville.
Monday, crews were able to "herd the fire around the majority of the community," Brunton said.
The fire destroyed some structures along the Highway 395 corridor and crossed the highway, spreading east, he said. The winds will test the fire lines that firefighters built.
Dixie Fire public information officer Luis Jimenez said the wind could either help or hinder firefighting efforts, depending on which way it blows as the flames reach sagebrush-covered terrain. He recommended residents in the Susanville area be prepared to evacuate and consider leaving early.
“The best thing would be that if you’re in a warning or in an area that says it has a warning, have it planned,” Jimenez said. ”You don’t have to wait until you actually get to an order, you might as well be safe and get out now before things get chaotic.”
School administrators in Nevada delay start times due to wildfire smoke
Across the state line in Nevada, school administrators delayed start times in the Reno-Sparks area because of a cloak of smoke from the Dixie Fire blanketing the region. Smoke plumes from the Caldor Fire were also visible from northern Nevada.
Two dozen fires burned in Montana and nearly 50 in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Authorities ordered evacuations Tuesday for several remote communities in north-central Montana as strong winds propelled a large wildfire toward inhabited areas.
The mandatory evacuation covered Lodge Pole, a town of about 300 people on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, and the former mining town of Zortman, which has about two dozen people, the KOJM radio station reported.
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren and Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Monstrous Dixie Fire closer to destroying California town