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UPDATE: Dixie Fire Grows to 40,500 Acres; Blown PG&E Power Line Fuses May Have Started Blaze

QUINCY, Plumas County (CBS SF) -- Blown fuses on a Pacific Gas and Electric power line are being looked at a possible cause of the Dixie Fire burning in Butte and Plumas counties that has exploded in size to 40,500 acres as of Monday evening.

Meanwhile, new evacuations were underway in several rural communities as the blaze advanced in the rugged terrain near the Bucks Lake wilderness area.

During the Cal Fire's Sunday evening briefing, the fire was at 18,702 acres. By Cal Fire's latest update Monday evening, the burn zone had grown to 40,500 acres. The fire is 15% contained.

ALSO READ: Tamarack Fire Evacuation Orders Expanded; Rain Could Trigger Mudslides In Area

On Monday, Cal Fire said the Dixie Fire was very active and produced a large smoke column. Firefighters constructed control lines to reinforce the perimeter and continued to aggressively fight the fire from both the air and ground.

Authorities said ground crews were working to strengthen contingency lines from Chips Creek to High Lakes. Air resources including air tankers, very large air tankers, and type 2 medium copters and type 1 heavy copters flew over the fire and supported suppression efforts on the ground.

Monday night, Cal Fire is expecting possible isolated thunderstorms throughout the area. Crews will continue to work on widening and strengthening the direct and indirect control lines currently in place.

Dixie Fire: Cal Fire Incident Report, Evacuation Information, Road Closures

PG&E filed its incident report regarding the Dixie Fire late Sunday evening.

The utility said a repairman noticed damage to fuses on a power line on July 13 after the company's outage system indicated that Cresta Dam off of Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon had lost power.

"The responding PG&E troubleman observed from a distance what he thought was a blown fuse on the PG&E Bucks Creek 1101 12kV Overhead Distribution Circuit uphill from his location," the utility said in an electric incident report with the California Public Utilities Commission.

Dixie Fire: PG&E Dixie Fire incident report

"Due to the challenging terrain and road work resulting in a bridge closure, he was not able to reach the pole with the fuse until approximately 1640 hours. There he observed two of three fuses blown and what appeared to him to be a healthy green tree leaning into the Bucks Creek 1101 12 kV conductor, which was still intact and suspended on the poles."

"He also observed a fire on the ground near the base of the tree. The troubleman manually removed the third fuse and reported the fire. His supervisor called 9-1-1, and the 9-1-1 operator replied they were aware of the fire and responding. Cal Fire air support arrived on scene by approximately 1730 hours and began dropping fire retardant and water."

Dixie Fire
Firefighters near front lines of Dixie Fire, July 19, 2021. (Butte County Fire Department)

In a statement to KPIX 5, PG&E said it has filed a report with state regulators over the incident.

"Yesterday, PG&E filed an Electric Incident Report (EIR) with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the Dixie Fire in Butte and Plumas counties. The information PG&E submitted is preliminary, and the company submitted this report in an abundance of caution given CAL FIRE's collection of PG&E facilities in connection with its investigation. PG&E is cooperating with CAL FIRE's investigation."

PG&E equipment has been blamed for a number of major wildfires in the state over years and it wasn't the first time the utility was under investigation as a source of a wildfire in the area. Cal Fire determined the 2018 Camp Fire which killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise was caused by PG&E electrical transmission lines in the Pulga area.

At the briefing, Cal Fire incident commander Tony Brownell said firefighters faced a stiff challenge battling the northeastern area of the massive blaze.

"Today was a very active day on the fire," he said. "There are three things that really affect a fire -- fuel, topography and weather. All three got into affect today when the fire got very active on two different sides of the fire."

Brownell said crews were trying to create a "catcher's mitt" of fire lines to prevent the fire from moving northward. Cal Fire was also focused on not allowing the blaze to advance toward Concow and Magalia, two Butte County towns impacted by the deadly 2018 Campfire.

The blaze was being fueled by winds and embers stirred up within a massive pyrocumulus cloud that soared thousands of feet above the fire.

"This is where it got very active, this is where you guys saw the column of smoke from the valley," Brownell said as he pointed to the eastern portion of the fire on the map. "All that super heated air goes up in the atmosphere...So it got across the Feather River all the way down to (above) Tobin."

The embers ignited spot fires in the tinder-dry brush and trees, accelerating the spread of the blaze. The advancing fire forced officials to shut down Highway 70.

"It (large column of embers) is very common, especially the last couple years because our fuels are so dry from the drought, bug kill, everything is receptive. So if a spark falls into the unburn brush more than likely it is going to start a fire," Brownell said.

The fire was 15 percent contained as of Sunday night with 1,918 firefighters engaged in battling the blaze which was threatening 810 structures.

New evacuation orders were issued Sunday night for the Jonesville and Philbrook areas of Butte County and High Lakes, homes in the Butte/Plumas County line east of Twain, Meadow Valley and Bucks Lake.

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