GREENVILLE, Plumas County (CBS SF) -- A wall of wind-whipped flames from the Dixie Fire roared into the Plumas County community of Greenville Wednesday night, igniting homes as firefighters desperately attempted to rescue residents who had failed to obey orders to evacuate.
Operations Section Chief Jake Cagle said the blaze began ripping through the community of 2,100 residents around 4 p.m.
"It (the fire) got into Greenville, so crews are working right now, structure defense and going into life threat mode right now," he said. "There's still a lot of people, unfortunately, in Greenville who did not evacuate. So we are having to deal with that. Focus on that right now and getting those folks out and trying to protect that life threat."
"Right now, we can't protect the structures because we are trying to get people out," he continued. "A lot of people chose to stay. This is problem we are having. These are not the normal fires anymore...The way the fuels are, the way the Red Flag conditions are. Just intense fire behavior."
Cal Fire said Thursday morning the Dixie Fire grew by 50,000 acres overnight to 322,502 acres. The fire, which began on July 14, is 35% contained and is currently among the top 10 wildfires in California history.
The fire was fueled overnight by low relative humidity and strong winds. An additional 4,000 people were ordered to evacuate, bringing nearly 26,500 people in several counties under evacuation orders.
A gas station, hotel and bar were among many structures gutted in the town of Greenville, which dates to California's Gold Rush era and has some buildings more than a century old.
"We did everything we could," fire spokesman Mitch Matlow said. "Sometimes it's just not enough."
Raw Video: Dixie Fire Flames Roar Into Greenville
Dawn Garofalo fled with a dog and two horses from a friend's property near Greenville, and watched the soaring cloud grow from the west side of Lake Almanor.
"There's only one way in and one way out," she said. "I didn't want to be stuck up there if the fire came through."
Strong winds were fueling the fire's advance near Canyon Dam where some residents were trapped, Cagle said.
As the flames approached, the Plumas County Sheriff's Department took to social media, pleading with residents to get out now.
"If you are still in the Greenville area, you are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now!!" the post read. "Evacuate to the south to Quincy. If you remain, emergency responders may not be able to assist you."
ALSO READ: How To Help Victims Of Dixie Fire
The fire's advance also triggered new evacuations in Lassen and Tehama counties Wednesday evening. In Lassen County, an evacuation order was issued for the unpopulated area south of Mountain Meadows Reservoir from Hamilton Branch waterway east to the Lassen/Plumas County line.
In Tehama County, the sheriff's office ordered evacuations in the Wilson Lake area and north to the Plumas County line. The order extends south to Highway 36 and east to the Plumas County Line.
- Cal Fire Incident Report: Evacuations, Maps, Road Closures
- Evacuation Maps: Butte, Plumas County | Lassen County | Tehama County
- County Websites: Butte County | Plumas County | Lassen County | Tehama County
Elsewhere on the fire front, a weary army of firefighters was also staging an intense battle near Chester along the north edge of the fire as flames marched ever closer to the small communities and homes surrounding Lake Almanor.
Evacuation orders and warnings were issued on Tuesday for residents on both sides of the popular recreation lake including Chester, Lake Almanor Peninsula and Hamilton Branch.
There were nearly 5,000 firefighters including U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot units and crews from San Francisco Bay Area fire departments manning the lines.
While miles of the fire lines were in the mop-up stages, the fight to halt the flames has grown more intense on the northern edge of the blaze.
The advance has been fueled by a combination of afternoon winds and islands of unburned vegetation within the containment lines that have ignited and tossed up large ember clouds that have jumped fire lines and starting spot fires.
Those fires erupted all along the fire's northern edge on Tuesday, sending flames across Highway 89 and burning to the edge of Lake Almanor north of Prattville.
The winds became even more intense while the humidity levels tumbled into the single digits -- a perfect combination to fuel the advancing flames.
"At 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, a Red Flag warning goes into effect for the fire region...We expect a dry, cold front to pass through Northern California, it will set up a critical fire weather pattern," said Cal Fire meteorologist Ryan Walbrun during the Tuesday night fire briefing. "What we have seen the last couple of days is just seasonal, typical weather."
"We expect increasing southwest winds, pushing toward the lake," he continued. "We are expecting gusts in the 30-40 mph range pushing up on the fire itself."
Walbrun said the air above the fire would also be unstable, allowing the massive pyrocumulus clouds to grow, setting up their own weather patterns with dangerous downdrafts.
Among the areas devastated by the fire were the remnants of the Gold Rush-era ghost town of Rich Bar.
"Our heritage has gone up in flames," Paul Russell, assistant director of the Plumas County Museum in Quincy, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Rich Bar was part of the start of Plumas County and the start of bringing people up here. This is a real historical loss."
While a source of the fire has yet been determined, officials were investigating PG&E equipment in both the Dixie and the Fly fires. Those two fires merged last week.
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