PULGA — As the Dixie Fire roars into its 16th day, it is not only the largest fire currently in the state but it is now officially the second largest fire to impact Butte County in its history.
On the evening of July 18, the fire was 18,702 acres, making it the 13th largest fire in the county’s history at that point, just behind the 1951 Milk Ranch fire that burned 21,979 acres in the Feather River Canyon.
Retired firefighter Wayne Wilson said that when he joined Cal Fire in 1973 the Milk Ranch fire was still a topic of discussion by firefighters.
Since July 18, it has burned on average 18,436 acres per day, meaning that since then, on average, a Dixie Fire has nearly repeated itself in growth for 11 straight days.
It now stands at 221,504 acres, just behind the North Complex fires caused by lightning in 2019 that burned 318,935 acres.
Even though yesterday’s growth of 1,492 acres may seem small in comparison to the rapid rate of growth the fire has exhibited since July 18 it is by no means small.
In fact, if yesterday’s growth in the fire was a standalone fire, it would be between an unnamed 1917 fire that burned 1,481 acres and the 1996 Palermo fire that burned 1,515 acres.
And it would be smaller than the more well known 2000 Concow Fire that burned 1,835 acres in September of that year, according to Appendix H of the 2019 Butte County Hazardous Mitigation update that lists the wildfire history within the county.
In fact the Dixie Fire is just the fourth fire in the county’s history that has topped 100,000 acres.
The Camp Fire burned 153,336 acres, destroyed Paradise, Concow and parts of Magalia in Butte Creek Canyon. The fire killed 85 people and destroyed 14,000 structures and it was just the second fire to break the 100,000 acre fire mark.
In August 1990, the Campbell Fire, started by equipment use, broke out in Tehama County, torched 131,504 acres and made its way into Butte.
It started in Tehama County on Aug. 13 1990 and two retired firefighters Dave Pittman and Dave Quintel say it was above Forest Ranch in a place called Campbellville, though a good portion of it was “down in the canyon in Web Hollow.” The access was also through Cohasset. They said it lasted “a week to 10 days” and the nearest fire station was then California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Station 22 in Cohasset.
While the Dixie Fire is still under investigation, PG&E has indicated its equipment may have been involved. If that bears out, it will be, according to the 2019 Butte County Hazardous Mitigation update, the 10th such start in the county.
Of the top 20 fires in the county’s history just two were caused by power lines — unfortunately, they happened to be the deadly Camp Fire and the currently raging Dixie Fire.
Interestingly, a power line also started a 2011 Dixie Fire that burned 11 acres in the Feather River Canyon.
According to the document, the first eight fires in Butte County started by power lines combined to burn 16,743 acres. The largest was the 2017 Cherokee Fire that started on Oct. 8, 2017, burning 8,416 acres and the smallest was the 21-acre Highway Fire on June 22, 2017.
The ninth came on Nov. 8, 2018, and that fire, the Camp Fire, burned 20,000 acres on the first day.
Top 20 fires
Within the top 20 Butte County fires are six that have no names and were between 1917 and 1931. In total, they burned 117, 338 acres, with the largest being a 1931 fire that burned 42, 078 acres, which is now the seventh-largest in the county’s history. The county lists the cause of that fire as miscellaneous — the same cause as Milk Ranch Fire.
In fact, that 1931 fire remained the largest in the county’s history until the Campbell Fire.
These are the top 20 fires in order of size:
- North Complex; Aug. 17, 2020; caused by lightning; 318,935 acres
- Dixie Fire; July 13, 2020; cause is under investigation; 221,504 acres and counting*
- Camp Fire; Nov. 8, 2018; caused by a power line; 153,336 acres
- Campbell Fire; Aug. 13, 1909; caused by equipment use; 131,504 acres
- Storrie Fire; Aug. 17, 2000; cause was from the railroad; 56,076 acres
- BTU Lightning Complex; July 2, 2008; caused by lightning; 53,699 acres
- Unnamed fire, 1931; miscellaneous cause; 42,078 acres
- Bucks Fire; Aug. 23, 1999; caused by lightning; 34,236 acres
- Unnamed fire 1927; unknown/unidentified cause; 27,841
- Humboldt Fire; June 11, 2008; caused by arson; 23,344 acres
- Unnamed fire 1918; miscellaneous cause; 22,232 acres
- Milk Ranch Fire; Sept. 11, 1951; miscellaneous cause; 21,979 acres
- Musty Fire; Aug. 23, 1999; caused by lightning; 16,757 acres
- Cascade Fire; Oct. 8, 2017; unknown/unidentified cause; 16,141 acres
- Scotch Fire; June 21, 2008; caused by lightning; 13,008 acres
- Unnamed fire 1917; miscellaneous cause; 12,701 acres
- Unnamed fire 1926; miscellaneous cause; 12,536 acres
- South-Frey Fire; June 21, 2008; caused by lightning; 12,402 acres
- Pine Creek Fire; July 21, 1943; unknown/unidentified cause; 11,360 acres
- Doe Mill Fire; Aug. 23, 1999; caused by lightning; 10,857 acres
* PG&E has indicated that its equipment may have started the Dixie Fire.
Fires No. 4 through No. 10 burned 368,768 acres. The North Complex burned 318,935 by itself.
Combined, the Camp, Dixie and North Complex fires have burned 689,852 acres since 2018.