California’s largest single wildfire in recorded history continued to grow after destroying nearly 550 homes while authorities in Montana ordered evacuations as a wind-driven blaze roared toward several remote communities.
The dangerous fires are among some 100 large blazes burning Wednesday across 15 states, mostly in the West, where historic drought conditions have left lands parched and ripe for ignition.
The east end of Northern California’s massive Dixie Fire flared up Tuesday as afternoon winds increased, fire officials said.
Burning through bone-dry trees, brush and grass, the fire has destroyed at least 1,027 buildings, more than half of them homes in the northern Sierra Nevada. Newly released satellite imagery showed the scale of the destruction in the small community of Greenville that was incinerated last week during an explosive run of flames.
The Dixie Fire named after the road where it started on July 14 by Tuesday night covered an area of 766 square miles (1,984 square kilometers) and was 27% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At least 14,000 remote homes were still threatened.
The Dixie Fire is the largest single fire in California history and the largest currently burning in the U.S. It is about half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused 2020 fires across seven counties that were fought together and that state officials consider California’s largest wildfire overall.
In southeastern Montana, communities in and around the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation were ordered to evacuate as the Richard Spring Fire grew amid erratic winds.
The order was expanded Tuesday night to include Lame Deer, a town of about 2,000 where people who fled the fire earlier in the day were sheltering. About 600 people in the small community of Ashland and nearby communities were also ordered to leave.
The flames came within about a quarter mile (0.4 kilometers) of a subdivision outside Ashland along the Tongue River. Powerful gusts Tuesday caused the blaze to explode across more than 200 square miles (518 square kilometers) as the fire jumped roads, creeks and fire lines created in an attempt to prevent it from growing.
Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists have said climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. The fires across the West come as parts of Europe are also enduring large blazes spurred by tinder-dry conditions.