Wildfire Erupts Near Paradise, Site of Devastating 2018 Camp Fire

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The Dixie Fire near Paradise, which ignited Tuesday evening, had grown to over 2,250 acres by Thursday, prompting evacuations in several communities near the Feather River Canyon area, along the border of Butte and Plumas counties. (Courtesy of Cal Fire)

A Northern California wildfire churned through largely unpopulated mountain wilderness Thursday, near the town of Paradise, site of the deadliest known wildfire in California history.

As of Thursday morning, the Dixie Fire had burned some 2,250 acres of brush and timber near the Feather River Canyon area of Butte County, northeast of the town, and into national forest land in neighboring Plumas County. It did not, however, pose any immediate danger to Paradise residents.

With zero containment of the fast-moving blaze, the Butte County Sheriff's Office issued an evacuation warning on Thursday afternoon to residents of the Philbrook area to the Plumas County line, and the Plumas County Sheriff's Office issued a mandatory evacuation order for the High Lakes region.

In its early hours, the fire, which started Tuesday evening, raced along steep and hard-to-reach terrain about 10 miles from Paradise, the foothill town that was virtually incinerated by the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people. Although the current blaze has not advanced toward the town, and residents have not been ordered to evacuate, its proximity has caused jitters among some homeowners who have just started to return to normal.

Chuck Dee and his wife, Janie, returned last year to Paradise on the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada to rebuild a home lost in that fire. So when they woke up Thursday and saw smoke from the new Dixie Fire, it was frightening, even though it was burning away from populated areas.

“It made my wife and I both nervous,” he said.

Larry Peterson, whose home in neighboring Magalia survived the previous blaze, said some of his neighbors were getting their belongings together in case they had to flee.

“Anytime you’ve got a fire after what we went through, and another one is coming up, you’ve got to be concerned,” he told KHSL-TV.

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Other locals stocked up on water and other essential items.

“We pretty much left with our clothes on our backs” during the previous fire, said Jennifer Younie of Paradise. “So this time we are looking to be more prepared and more vigilant.”

Joyce Mclean’s home burned last time but she has rebuilt it and will again if necessary, she told the station.

“We just take each day as it comes and if it happens, it happens,” she said. “There’s not much that we can do about it.”

Because little of the foliage has grown back in the area since the 2018 blaze, there is that much there now for the current fire to burn, Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly told the Sacramento Bee.

“It’s probably not a direct threat at this time,” he said.

The blaze is one of more than 70 active wildfires that have destroyed homes and burned through nearly 1 million acres — a combined area larger than Rhode Island — in a dozen mostly Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In southern Oregon, the Bootleg Fire, the largest wildfire currently burning in the U.S., covered more than 227,000 acres early Thursday after a day of extreme behavior and explosive growth, and was less than 10% contained. Twenty-one homes have been destroyed and another 1,900 remained threatened in the Fremont-Winema National Forest area just north of California.

“This fire is going to continue to grow — the extremely dry vegetation and weather are not in our favor,” Joe Hessel, an incident commander, said in a statement.

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Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have swept the region, sparking wildfires and making them harder to fight. Climate change has made the American West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

In drought-stricken California, the state's largest fire so far this year had as of Thursday grown to over 100,500 acres north of Lake Tahoe near the Nevada state line.

The Beckwourth Complex, a merging of two lightning-caused blazes, was 68% contained but new evacuations were ordered on its north side, as winds carried embers ahead of the fire, Plumas National Forest officials said Thursday morning.

The fire “has been creating its own independent weather patterns as the day progresses,” a statement said.

KQED's Matthew Green contributed additional reporting to this story.