GRIZZLY FLATS, Calif. -- A raging wildfire experiencing "unprecedented fire behavior and growth" destroyed the small Northern California forest town of Grizzly Flats Tuesday as dry and windy weather continues to fuel nearly 100 fires across the West.
Officials estimate the Caldor Fire has burned 50 homes in the town of 1,200 people. The town post office and an elementary school have also been destroyed.
The blaze tripled in size from Monday to Tuesday to nearly 50 square miles, burning about 23,000 acres, fire officials said, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a State of Emergency. Two injuries have been reported.
🛰️ Here is the latest satellite data showing the growth of the #DixieFire, #McFarlandFire, and the #CaldorFire from this morning's #MODIS pass over #NorCal. With critical fire weather in the forecast, please continue to practice fire weather safety. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/83LYoXfYjN— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) August 18, 2021
And as dangerously dry winds were expected to continue Wednesday, PG&E has cut off power to about 51,000 customers in the region to prevent power lines from toppling and sparking new blazes.
Grizzly Flats residents said few homes were spared as the blaze tore through town. Streets are now littered with piles of twisted metal and mounds of ash surrounding chimneys that are the last relic of what had stood the day before.
Derek Shaves visited Grizzly Flats Tuesday and saw his home, and most of the houses in his neighborhood had been destroyed by the fire.
"It’s a pile of ash," he told the Associated Press. "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."
Dixie Fire threatens town of 18,000
Meanwhile, just to the south, the Dixie Fire has now claimed 600 homes amid 1,100 structures destroyed and is threatening the largest town it has approached since the fire began in July.
Residents in Susanville, the county seat of Lassen County, have been told by police "to be alert and be ready to evacuate" if the fire threatens the city. According to the AP, ash was already falling in the town of 18,000, which was home to two state prisons, a federal lockup and a casino. Numerous evacuation orders were in effect as firefighters poured into the city, ready to defend.
"(Susanville) is not out of play, and the next 24 hours are going to be crucial to watch as to what the fire is going to do there," Mark Brunton, an operations section chief, told an online briefing.
Tinder Dry Conditions Continue
The Caldor and Dixie fires are two of about 100 wildfires burning in western U.S. states that have seen historic drought and weeks of high temperatures and dry weather that have left trees, brush and grasslands as flammable as tinder.
Fire Weather Warnings continue across much of the interior of Northern California into Wednesday evening and Thursday morning for northeast winds gusting up to 35-55 mph, with the strongest gusts expected in the highest peaks of the mountains in Napa County.
Breezy N to NE winds will continue through Thursday morning. Low afternoon RH combined with the winds will bring elevated fire danger through this afternoon. Tonight these winds will be accompanied by poor RH recoveries over portions eastern Mendocino and Lake counties. pic.twitter.com/bD2QXrZ1en— NWS Eureka (@NWSEureka) August 18, 2021
In addition, relative humidity levels are expected in the 8% to 20% range meaning both any active fires and new fires will likely spread rapidly, the National Weather Service warned.
Winds are expected to decrease Thursday with calmer conditions and waning fire danger continuing into the weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.