Flames Race Up Feather River Canyon Through Belden; Towering Pyroculumus Cloud Stirs Up Erratic Weather – CBS San Francisco

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QUINCY, Plumas County (CBS SF) — A wall of flames fueled by erratic winds and clouds of embers raced up the Feather River overnight through the Plumas County communities of Belden and Rich Bar as the Dixie Fire grew to nearly 60,000 acres and was just 15 percent contained.

At a Tuesday morning fire update, Cal Fire operations spokesman Sean Norman said there was very little movement overnight along the fire’s western edge, near the area devastated by the deadly 2018 Camp Fire. It was on the eastern and northern edges of the blaze where the firefighters had their toughest challenges.

“In the Feather River canyon we had extreme fire behavior in the communities of Belden and Rich Bar,” he said. “There was a lot of structure defense going on and the troops were continuing to work in there. The fire has made it out and beyond the Rich Bar area. They are working in there right now, looking for some of the lines we put in last year on the North Complex (Fire) to continue to hold that section below Bucks Lake.”

“As the fire progresses up toward Meadow Valley again they are looking to re-engage some of the lines we used last year.”

The North Complex Fire was a series of wildfires in Butte and Plumas counties triggered by lightning in August 2020. Before the complex was finally declared out in November, the blazes had claimed 16 lives and burned 318,935 acres.

DIXIE FIRE: 

On Tuesday, the more than 2,000 firefighters along the lines were set to face another day of challenging weather conditions.

“We expect to have another difficult day on the fire, but we’ll pick up some successes as well,” Norman said.

One of the biggest challenges comes from the towering pyroculumus cloud stirred by the smoke, embers and superheated air rising skyward from the intense flames.

In a Monday night briefing, Cal Fire’s incident meteorologist Julia Ruthford said that the fire’s pyroculumus column grew higher than 30,000 feet on Monday with the added fuel of monsoonal moisture from a weather system that moved in from the southwest.

“It really increases the instability at the levels above the fire,” she said. “The column got high enough that it generated a thunderstorm over the fire itself.”

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“That led to some lightning out ahead of it and some really gusty, erratic winds due to that extreme, extreme conditions due to the thunderstorm,” Ruthford continued. “Overall, we’ve been in an extremely critical fire weather pattern.”

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Meanwhile, in a filing with the state PUC, Pacific Gas & Electric said blown fuses were discovered on one of its power lines near where the Dixie Fire sprang to life.

The utility said a repairman noticed damage to fuses on a power line on July 13 after the company’s outage system indicated that Cresta Dam off of Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon had lost power.

“The responding PG&E troubleman observed from a distance what he thought was a blown fuse on the PG&E Bucks Creek 1101 12kV Overhead Distribution Circuit uphill from his location,” the utility said in an electric incident report with the California Public Utilities Commission.

“Due to the challenging terrain and road work resulting in a bridge closure, he was not able to reach the pole with the fuse until approximately 1640 hours. There he observed two of three fuses blown and what appeared to him to be a healthy green tree leaning into the Bucks Creek 1101 12 kV conductor, which was still intact and suspended on the poles.”

“He also observed a fire on the ground near the base of the tree. The troubleman manually removed the third fuse and reported the fire. His supervisor called 9-1-1, and the 9-1-1 operator replied they were aware of the fire and responding. Cal Fire air support arrived on scene by approximately 1730 hours and began dropping fire retardant and water.”

In a statement to KPIX 5, PG&E said it was cooperating with state fire officials.

“The information PG&E submitted is preliminary, and the company submitted this report in an abundance of caution given CAL FIRE’s collection of PG&E facilities in connection with its investigation. PG&E is cooperating with CAL FIRE’s investigation.”

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