I once spent a night in Westwood, Lassen County. Specifically, I slept in a building which had once been the home of the richest guy in Westwood (he was a timber baron).
For about two weeks, Westwood has been under mandatory evacuation orders due to the Dixie Fire. As of the publication of this post, the fire containment lines around the town are holding. The wildfire only surrounded it on three sides.
Westwood is less than twenty miles (thirty kilometers) away from Greenville, the town which the Dixie Fire destroyed. As soon as I learned that the wildfire was threatening Westwood, I knew Susanville is in danger. How? I’ve hiked the Bizz Johnson Trail from Westwood to Susanville. Dry forest goes all the way from the town to the city.
Yes, there is the Susan River, but do you see how small it is in the above photo? The river will help, but it won’t stop a monster like the Dixie Fire. This kind of wildfire can easily jump that kind of river.
Susanville, with a population of about 15,000 people, is the largest city in the region. On top of that, Susanville has several prisons (how do you evacuate a prison?) On top of that, many fire evacuees are in Susanville now. The highway which connects Susanville to the Reno metropolitan area (the nearest major population center) is now closed because of the wildfire, and the roads going west (to the rest of Northern California) are also closed, or at least at risk. If Susanville is put under mandatory evacuation, where can 20,000+ people go? Will they all go to Alturas in the north, which only has about 4,000 residents?
Meanwhile, more wildfires are sprouting around the state, threatening other towns and compelling firefighters to leave the Dixie Fire.
The brand new Cache Fire prompted evacuations of Clear Lake.
I’ve also spent a night camping in Clear Lake State Park. On the way to the state park, I wen through the scar of the Lake County fires, which at the time had been one of the most devastating wildfires in California history (though just a year later the Camp Fire in Paradise surpassed it). Driving the twisty roads through there was tough on the bus driver because she knew people who had lost homes in that fire. Some buildings had already been rebuilt among the charred trees. Some buildings were obviously never going to be rebuilt.
I spent two nights at Caribou Crossroads in Belden, which is also the location of the Belden Post Office. When I was there, the pumps failed so there was no tap water. No problem, it’s at the confluence of the North Fork and the East Fork of the Feather River, perfectly drinkable water (with filtration).
As of the publication of this post, Caribou Crossroads still stands. Being at the junction of two rivers might have saved it. The Dixie Fire destroyed other parts of Belden. You can see what the fire did further up Caribou road in this video.
Some places I’ve made memories will never be what they were, thanks to these wildfires.
I’m lucky. I’m nowhere near these fires now. I have no property to lose. I haven’t even suffered bad wildfire smoke this calendar year (so far). I’m not like my cousin who lost his home to a wildfire over a decade ago.
Yet the fact that I have trodden these places going up in flames makes this news feel more personal.
I feel a pressure to end this post with a pearl of wisdom. I have no pearls. This is just a record of my reactions at this time.