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Dixie Fire Update: Weary Crews Brace For Red Flag Winds; Fire Grows To 714,219 Acres, 'Today Will Be A Day Of Battle'

SUSANVILLE (CBS SF) -- Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Bruton didn't mince words at Saturday morning's briefing for crews battling the massive Dixie Fire. The day had all the ingredients for another challenging afternoon along the fire lines that stretch for nearly 500 miles.

The wildfire grew to 714,219 acres by early Saturday with 35% containment. It has destroyed at least 656 homes and razed the rural communities of Greenville and Canyondam.

And the flames will continue their advance on Saturday.

"We are going to have a challenging day," Bruton said. "Today will be a day of battle. We are going to have a lot of challenges."

Along the northern edge, the blaze continues to rip through Lassen Volcanic National Park. The fire has already charred a third of the park's acreage.

Along western edge, crews were dug in, preparing to battle the wall of flames advance on Janesville.

"No.1 priority (for Saturday in the West) -- call it the battle for Janesville," Bruton said. "We are going to continue to battle there and stop of the progression of fire in that community."

Bruton's East Zone counterpart, Chad Cook, said the issues near Janesville grew from a spot fire.

"Several days ago, we had a spot (fire) that came out of the main fire toward Janesville," he said. "That spot took off and ran toward just south of the town. It came off the escarpment and crossed the 395 and got out in a dry lake bed...The northwest flank of the fire has been troublesome. It gets the afternoon wind on it, we get lines on it, and it spots over our lines."

"And we pull back and we do it again, and then we do it again, it's a continuous fight to hold this fire line."

Along the southern edge, firefighters were engaged in a 'challenging' firefight in the Genesee Valley. New mandatory evacuations orders were issued for Taylorsville Friday afternoon. Extra crews were dispatched to the area to do structural protection in both Taylorsville and the Genesee Valley.

Cook also warned the fire could advance toward Quincy.

"It needs to be stated, the potential for it to come over Grizzly Ridge is real," he said. "We are building new contingencies for the east Quincy area."

And now the winds will be picking up. A local Red Flag warning was set to begin at 11 a.m. and run until 6 p.m. over the length of the fire zone. It will bring with it strong southwestern winds as dry cold front rolls through the area.

"The winds will pick up (later in the afternoon)," Cal Fire Meteorologist Joe Goudsward told the crews. "We are looking at maybe gusting as high as 35 mph, mainly on the exposed ridgetops and the mid-slopes. But the humidity will not be extremely low. With those critically dry fuels and the activity we've been seeing, just based on topography and fuels, we've issued a local Red Flag warning."

Cal Fire Fire Analyst Brian Newman echoed those sentiments. He said as of 8 a.m. gusts were already picking up along the southwest edge of the blaze to 11-12 mph.

"This is a fuel-driven fire," he told the crew chiefs. "Any other factor causes it to get up and making columns (of pyrocumulus clouds). So wind, topography, allows it (the fire) to start to move."


The Dixie Fire was the largest blaze in the state, but not the only one being fought by an army of 12,955 firefighters. There are 12 major wildfires currently burning in the state.

To north near Lake Tahoe, the Caldor Fire has already destroyed dozens of homes and on Friday authorities closed down a 46-mile stretch of Interstate 50, the main route between the state capital of Sacramento and Lake Tahoe on the Nevada border.

The highway was closed after debris from the blaze fell onto the roadway and because of red flag warnings for 20- to 30 mph winds that could gust to 40 mph at times

Over 1.5 million acres have already burned in the state, surpassing the acreage burned statewide at this point last year, which ended up setting the record. Now we're entering a period when powerful winds have often driven the deadliest blazes.

"Here we are — it's not the end of August and the size and distribution and the destruction of summer 2021 wildfires does not bode well for the next months," said Bill Deverell, a University of Southern California history professor who teaches about fire in the West. "The suggestion of patterns across the last two decades in the West is deeply unsettling and worrisome: hotter, bigger, more fires."

As a precaution, millions of acres of national forest in Northern California are being closed because of dangerous fire conditions.

The U.S. Forest Service announced that beginning Sunday it will close nine national forests from near Lake Tahoe at the Nevada border on the east all the way west to Six Rivers National Forest, which stretches north to the Oregon border and contains more than 1 million acres of land alone.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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