The largest wildfire in California has razed a small town in the state’s parched northeast, warping street lights and destroying historic buildings hours after residents were ordered to flee.
Greenville, an Indian Valley settlement of a few hundred people dating back to the mid-1800s Gold Rush, was engulfed by flames as winds whipped the inferno towards the community, turning the sky orange.
“I’d say the majority of downtown Greenville is completely destroyed,” tweeted wildfire photographer Stuart Palley, sharing images of the devastation.
“My heart is broken for this beautiful little town.” The Dixie Fire has been raging in the forests of northern California since mid-July, part of a climate crisis that has brought sweltering heat and an alarming drought.
Authorities had earlier issued evacuation alerts to residents, as high winds fanned the fire which, at 500 square miles (1,300 sq km), has grown to more than seven times the size of the US capital, Washington.
The blaze is so big that it has been generating its own weather system. “We did everything we could,” California Fire spokesman Mitch Matlow told reporters. “Sometimes it’s just not enough.”
Images taken by an AFP photographer showed the fire’s heat had bent street lights to the ground, with only a few structures still standing.
A gas station, a hotel and a bar were destroyed, as well as many buildings that were more than a century old.
The fire entered the town at roughly 4:00 pm Wednesday (2300 GMT) according to Jake Cagle, incident management team operations section chief.
He said firefighters were struggling with those not obeying evacuation orders, leading to them having to divert time and resources to rescue people in the path of the flames.
“It’s just intense fire behavior, and it’s not what we’re used to,” he said.
“Firefighters are fighting for the town of Greenville,” US Forest Service spokeswoman Pandora Valle told the San Francisco Chronicle late Wednesday, but was unable to give further details.—AP