'You are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now'

Published on August 5, 2021 9:23 AM

by Aya Elamroussi, Joe Sutton, Chris Boyette and Cheri Mossburg, CNN

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California sheriff's office issues stark warning as wildfire rages: 'You are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now'
A newly ignited fire in Northern California has forced thousands of residents to evacuate their homes as the US fights 96 large active fires that have scorched nearly two million acres.

The River Fire, raging in Nevada and Placer counties in California, has destroyed or damaged an estimated 40 structures since it started Wednesday, CalFire Deputy Chief Jim Hudson said during a news briefing. It has already torn through 1,400 acres and was not contained at all Wednesday evening.

In Placer County, nearly 2,400 people are under evacuation, Placer County Sheriff's Office spokesman Nelson Resendes said. In Nevada County, at least 4,200 residents are under an evacuation order or warning, Nevada County Sheriff Shannan Moon said.

"If you receive an evacuation warning, please go. And if you receive an order, get out. Do not take your chances ... We do not need you in there; you're taking your life in your hands," Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell said Wednesday at the news conference.

Meanwhile, California's largest active wildfire -- the Dixie Fire -- has torn through Greenville, a town in Plumas County, also in the state's northern region. Video of the fire shows flames ripping through the wooded terrain, cars charred, and structures burning -- including a gas station along a main road.

Several large wildfires and the smoke they're producing in Northern California were captured Wednesday using a sensor aboard NOAA's GOES-West satellite to depict the fire temperature and natural color of the surrounding area. Several large wildfires and the smoke they're producing in Northern California were captured Wednesday using a sensor aboard NOAA's GOES-West satellite to depict the fire temperature and natural color of the surrounding area. "The Dixie Fire pushed into Greenville Wednesday and early indications are there has been significant damage," California Governor's Office of Emergency Services spokesman Brian Ferguson told CNN in a phone interview.

Residents of the town were warned to evacuate immediately.

"If you are still in the Greenville area, you are in imminent danger and you MUST leave now!! ... If you remain, emergency responders may not be able to assist you," the Plumas County Sheriff's Office said in a message.

The Dixie Fire reignites trauma for people who survived California's deadliest wildfire in history The Dixie Fire reignites trauma for people who survived California's deadliest wildfire in history Wednesday evening, responders were still working to get everyone out.

"Right now, there are still a lot of people unfortunately in Greenville that did not evacuate. And so, we are having to deal with that ... and get all those folks out," said Jake Cagle, the operations sections chief for California's Incident Management Team. In an emotional video posted on Facebook, U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa -- who represents the area where the Dixie Fire is burning -- said more needs to be done and more attention needs to be paid to what the fires are doing to communities.

"We lost Greenville tonight. And there's just not words for how us in government haven't been able to get the job done," La Malfa said. "We will take up the fight even harder. And more so, we got to win this; we got to stop this. We got to get DC to pay attention, we got to get Sacramento to pay attention.

"Forget the politics, forget the nonsense. We have to stop making this happen by inattention to what is obvious," LaMalfa said.

Currently, there are 11 large active fires in the Golden State that have seared 425,944 acres so far, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Only Oregon has more large active fires at 15. The state is the site of the largest active wildfire in the US: the Bootleg Fire. Wildfires in the US are being fueled by extreme drought, above normal temperatures, and low humidity. North of the border, in British Columbia, Canada, 292 wildfires were actively burning as of Wednesday, with 122 categorized as out of control, the British Columbia Wildfire Dashboard showed.

Even being surrounded by water hasn't kept Hawaii free from fires. Two homes have been destroyed in the Mana Road Fire, Hawaii's largest wildfire on record, the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources said.

The fire has burned between 40,000 and 50,00 acres, fueled by wind gusts that topped 50 mph over the weekend, said Mike Walker, Fire Protection Forester with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Extreme weather is upending lives in the West. 'You walk around with this vague sense of terror.'

The fire is now 75% contained, but the fight isn't over, Walker said. "Firefighters will probably be there a few more days securing the line and tending to any hotspots they find."

While most people think of Hawaii as a tropical place, the leeward side of the island is drier, and Hawaii has a year-round fire season, Walker explained. Climate change has contributed to greater risk of fires in fallow agricultural lands, he said.

"The wet seasons are getting wetter and this creates a lot more fuel in the grass lands in these old agricultural lands and the drought that follows the wet season cures the grass until its ripe for burning," Walker said.

He cited the decline of agricultural lands as adding this significant fuel to the landscape, which devoid of crops is rich with invasive species of grass from Africa.

The cause of the Mana Road Fire has not been determined, but Walker noted that natural fires are rare, and 99% of fires started in Hawaii are caused by humans.

Federal forest officials abandon 'let it burn' tactic after criticism

The US Forest Service will no longer use its "let it burn" strategy for wildfires after federal officials allowed a small fire to grow out of control in extreme drought conditions, destroying homes and prompting renewed criticism from western lawmakers.

The "managed fire" suppression strategy, colloquially known as "let it burn," came under scrutiny again last month after Forest Service officials decided not to quickly extinguish the lightning-sparked Tamarack Fire in a national forest south of Lake Tahoe that later went on to destroy at least 10 structures and burn nearly 70,000 acres in two states.

The decision prompted backlash from lawmakers in both California and Nevada, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who told President Joe Biden in a virtual meeting last month that the Forest Service has a culture that "too often is wait and see." "We need your help to change the culture in terms of the suppression strategies in this climate literally and figuratively to be more aggressive on these federal fires," Newsom told Biden.

US Forest Service Fire Chief Randy Moore announced the strategy change in a memo Monday, citing severe drought, limited resources, and firefighter fatigue after more than a year of almost constant deployments and assisting with Covid-19 vaccination efforts. "The 2021 fire year is different from any before," Moore wrote. "In short, we are in a national crisis. At times like these, we must anchor to our core values, particularly safety."

Moore said the shift in policy will prioritize extinguishing wildfires that could pose a threat to public safety, rather than using small fires to clear out overgrown forestlands, until wildfire activity improves.

"We are in a 'triage mode' where our primary focus must be on fires that threaten communities and infrastructure," Moore wrote. "There is a finite amount of firefighting resources available that must be prioritized and fires will not always get the resources that might be requested."

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who met with Newsom on Wednesday at the burn scar of the August Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in California history, pledged more firefighting resources and acknowledged the federal agency's firefighting strategy was