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The Dixie Fire in Northern California Is The Second-Largest In State History

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

The Dixie Fire is now the second-largest fire in modern California history. It's been burning for weeks in northern California and threatening a series of small towns in the Sierra Nevada. More than 5,000 firefighters are working to contain the vast blaze. Kate Wolffe from member station KQED reports.

KATE WOLFFE, BYLINE: A weekend with heavy smoke and low winds slowed the spread of the mammoth blaze, but crews are scrambling to make progress before the weather turns. Here's Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TODD JOHNS: As with many wildfires, we have seen erratic behavior with the Dixie Fire. The weather has cooperated for the last few days, but that could change. And we're certainly not in the clear yet.

WOLFFE: Plumas County is home to the small town of Greenville, which was completely destroyed last week. The governor toured the site on Saturday and emphasized the role of climate change in the severity of the wildfires. Dr. Scott Stephens runs the Fire Science Laboratory at UC Berkeley. He says climate change is definitely part of the problem. The dry days are even drier. The hot days are even hotter. But climate change accounts for no more than 25% of the issue. The rest has to do with forest management policy. He says decades of suppressing fire in forests has left them with too much flammable undergrowth.

SCOTT STEPHENS: We have so much fuel. We have high tree densities. We have vulnerability. And then we put climate change on top of that. It actually just makes a difficult situation worse.

WOLFFE: Stephens suggests California should be doing 10 times as much forest management. That means more prescribed fires and forest thinning. The state's electrical utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, has acknowledged that state and federal agencies are investigating whether its power lines started the Dixie Fire and a small blaze nearby. Including the Dixie Fire, there are 10 large fires burning in the state, with months more fire season left to come. For NPR News, I'm Kate Wolffe in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE LAST SIGHS OF THE WIND'S "PHOBIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.