2021-10-12 00:25:29 Fighting the Dixie Fire – The New York Times
Fighting the Dixie Fire – The New York Times
Wildfires have always been a common occurrence in the American West. During a typical year in the late twentieth century, fires burned approximately 500,000 acres in California — an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island.
The number of fires has remained relatively stable over the last decade or so. Their intensity, however, has shifted. The ground is drier as a result of climate change, which has reduced the amount of snow that falls from California’s mountains, and as droughts become more common. “Everything is burning more intensely,” said Robert Foxworthy, a former firefighter who now works for the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The situation is similar to what appears to have happened to hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean as a result of climate change: they are not necessarily more frequent, but they are more intense.
Wildfires have become ferociously destructive in California and other parts of the West. From 2015 to 2019, the average number of acres burned in the state surpassed one million, implying that fires burned an area larger than Rhode Island each year. Last year, more than four million acres (an area larger than Connecticut) burned in California, and the number so far this year is around 2.5 million.
California wildfires have burned an area larger than the total acreage of New Jersey or Vermont over the last two years. “The fire situation in California is unrecognizably worse than it was a decade ago,” Stanford University scientist Michael Wara told The New York Times.
The Dixie fire, which started on July 13 about 100 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe, has been the year’s largest. The fire may have started when a tree fell on a power line, igniting a brush fire that quickly spread. It eventually expanded to more than 960,000 acres.
This morning, The New York Times published an article, largely based on videos, that tells the story of the battle to defeat Dixie.
More than 6,500 people have been involved in the effort, which has included the use of hundreds of aircraft, trucks, and bulldozers. The command center, which took over a county fairgrounds, became a makeshift town in its own right.
“Each morning at 7 a.m., hundreds of firefighters, bulldozer operators, and pilots gathered under a poplar grove for a daily briefing,” our colleagues write. Some crew members wore sweatshirts with the names of previous major fires on them as if they were badges of honor: Creek fire, Camp fire, Lightning Complex. Dixie had one as well.”
Dixie has been largely subdued. However, many of the firefighters and other workers who were able to defeat it believe they are losing the larger war.
“Fifteen years ago, a 100,000-acre fire would have been the largest in your career.” “We have one-million-acre fires now,” said Kristen Allison, a firefighter for the past 25 years. “In the meantime, five other 100,000-acre fires are raging in Northern California.”