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Dixie Fire Grows, As Firefighters Brace for Windy, Dry Conditions

California’s largest wildfire continued to grow Wednesday, as thousands of firefighters prepared for a tough fight ahead with the anticipated return of dangerous weather.

A red flag warning was issued through Thursday across much of the northeastern part of the state (and throughout a large swath of the West) because of hot, bone-dry conditions with winds up to 40 mph. 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 U.S. Forest Service.

Firefighters were able to save homes and keep large stretches of the blaze at bay, but flames jumped perimeter lines in a few spots Tuesday, prompting additional evacuation orders for some 15,000 people, fire officials said.

Firefighters were still working to protect the small Northern California mountain community of Greenville as the 3-week-old fire grew to over 274,000 acres across Plumas and Butte counties.

Heat from the flames created a pyrocumulus cloud, a massive column of smoke that rose 30,000 feet in the air, said Mike Wink, a Cal Fire operations section chief.

The fire has threatened thousands of homes and destroyed 67 houses and other buildings since breaking out on July 14. It was 35% contained as of Wednesday morning.

About 150 miles to the west, the lightning-sparked McFarland Fire threatened remote homes along the Trinity River in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The fire was only 5% contained. It had already burned fiercely through more than 20,000 acres of drought-stricken vegetation.

Similar risky weather was expected across Southern California, where heat advisories and warnings were issued for interior valleys, mountains and deserts for much of the week.

Heat waves and historic drought have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to produce more extreme weather, sparking more frequent and destructive wildfires.

More than 21,000 firefighters and support personnel were battling 96 large fires covering 1.9 million acres across 14 states — including a massive brush fire on Hawaii’s Big Island — the National Interagency Fire Center said.

Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, the nation’s largest at nearly 414,000 acres, was 84% contained, with firefighters busy mopping up hot spots and strengthening fire lines.

“Crews are working tirelessly to ensure we are as prepared as we can be for the extreme fire weather forecast for the next couple days,” a U.S. Forest Service update said.

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