GREENVILLE, Calif. — People living in the scenic forestlands of Northern California found themselves facing a weekend of fear as wildfires threatened to reduce thousands of homes to ashes.
The Dixie Fire that incinerated much of the gold rush-era town of Greenville has destroyed more than 180 homes and is threatening more than 10,000 buildings in the northern Sierra Nevada. It had engulfed an area larger than the size of New York City.
According to the state Department of Fire and Forestry Protection, it was the most prominent current wildland blaze in the nation and the third-largest in recorded California history.
Wind-driven flames destroyed dozens of homes and most of Greenville’s downtown on Wednesday and Thursday and also heavily damaged Canyondam, a hamlet with a population of about three dozen people. The fire reached the town of Chester, but crews managed to protect homes and businesses there, officials said.
Charlene Mays kept her gas station in Chester open as long as she could, telling weary firefighters not to apologize for the trail of ash their boots left on the floor. But when the small town on the northwest shore of Lake Almanor lost power, Mays decided it was time for her to go.
She ran home to grab a box of valuables, including her husband’s class ring and jewelry. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe. Chunks of ash broke apart as they hit the ground, making a sound like broken glass.
Since then, Mays has been living in the parking lot of Lassen Community College in Susanville. Her husband stayed behind to maintain the water tanks firefighters were using. It’s just her, a miniature pinscher chihuahua named Jedidiah and a pit bull named Bear.