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Caldor Fire grows, threatening several Sierra foothill towns

Northern California continues to suffer under the strain of several wildfires, an old one that continues to grow toward a county seat and a new one that threatens towns between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

(CN) — The Caldor Fire incinerated the town of Grizzly Flats halfway between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento on Tuesday on its steady march through a populated part of the foothills that prompted mandatory evacuation orders in Pollock Pines and Kyburz. 

The fire exploded to 54,000 acres in a single day, in what fire officials described Wednesday morning as “unprecedented fire behavior” due to a combination of dry conditions in the forest and gusty winds. 

The U.S. Forest Service said the 7,000 residents of Pollock Pines should leave and other mountain communities are busy fleeing in advance of the raging inferno. The entirety of the El Dorado National Forest has been shuttered due to the rapid spread. 

There is zero containment on the fire. 

“This incident is going to evolve significantly each day over the many days in front of us,” said Jeff Marsolais, chief of the El Dorado National Forest. 

The chief said that despite the rapid spread of the fire and the destruction of most of the structures in Grizzly Flats, Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service have marshaled personnel to try and protect other communities in harm’s way. 

“We have a heck of a firefight right now,” he said. 

Several residents described a chaotic flight from the town of Grizzly Flats as the fire encroached rapidly. Two people were injured as they tried to flee.

Derek Shaves and Tracy Jackson were helping their friend salvage food and other supplies from the Grizzly Pub & Grub, a business in the evacuation zone that wasn’t touched by the blaze, according to The Associated Press.

Shaves said he visited Grizzly Flats in the aftermath and saw his neighborhood reduced to rubble. 

“It’s a pile of ash,” he said. “Everybody on my block is a pile of ash and every block that I visited — but for five separate homes that were safe — was totally devastated.”

Meanwhile to the north, the Dixie Fire — now the second-largest wildfire in state history — approached the town of Susanville, a large town of 18,000 and the Lassen County seat. 

Mark Burton, a fire operations chief, told residents of the large foothills town to be prepared to evacuate as firefighters have had difficulty getting the blaze contained.

The Dixie Fire has exploded due to the high winds, blackening 620,000 acres so far with 31% containment. It is currently the largest fire burning in the American West, a region ravaged by drought, dry conditions and weather favorable to the rapid spread of wildland fire. 

“The drought, combined with dry, hot weather and strong winds, has resulted in very active fire behavior,” the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday. 

The Dixie Fire has destroyed about 600 structures for far and has laid waste to the the towns of Greenville and Canyondam.

Fortunately, neither fire has resulted in a casualty, a welcome departure from past fire seasons that have proved fatal to residents surprised by the swiftness of approaching blazes. 

More than 100 major fires have cropped up throughout he drought-ravaged West during the fire season, scorching about 2.1 million acres. 

For California, the worst may be yet to come. In the past fire seasons, the most devastating and fatal wildfires have typically come in September through the fall. 

Follow Matthew Renda on Twitter

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