In a small Northern California mountain community wildfires has demolished much of the downtown and some surrounding homes.
The Dixie Fire erupted through the Greenville on Wednesday evening, devastating businesses and homes as the sky was cast in an orange glow. A photographer on assignment for The Associated Press described seeing a gas station, hotel and bar burned to the ground.
“If you are still in the Greenville area, you are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now!!” the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook earlier Wednesday.
The Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire did not immediately respond to messages.
The 3-week-old fire has grown to over 428 square miles (1,108 square kilometers) across Plumas and Butte counties.
Firefighters had been trying to safeguard the town of 800 about 280 miles (450 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco by clearing ruins from roads and marking hazards.
The devastation came amid a red flag caution issued by forecasters warning of hot, bone-dry conditions with winds up to 40 mph (64 kph). That could drive flames through timber, brush and grass, especially along the northern and northeastern sides of the vast Dixie Fire.
“I think we definitely have a few hard days ahead of us,” said Shannon Prather with the US Forest Service.
Fire officials said that firefighters were able to save homes and hold large stretches of the blaze. But flames jumped perimeter lines in a few spots Tuesday, prompting additional evacuation orders for about 15,000 people east of Lake Almanor, .
Heat from the flames created a pyrocumulus cloud, a massive column of smoke that rose 30,000 feet (10,000 yards) in the air, said Mike Wink, a state fire operations section chief.
Dawn Garofalo watched the cloud grow from the west side of the lake, where she fled with a dog and two horses, from a friend’s property near Greenville.