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Uniquely challenging West U.S. wildfires usher in a ‘new era of firefighting’

Firefighters in parts of the western U.S. were hoping for help from cooler weather Tuesday, but there's still no end in sight to a plague of wildfires — including one in Northern California that keeps growing. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Firefighters in parts of the Western U.S. were hoping for help from cooler weather today, but there's still no end in sight to a plague of wildfires, including one in Northern California that keeps growing.

    Stephanie Sy has our report.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In Indian Falls, California, charred homes, cars and keepsakes are all that's left, after the Dixie Fire tore through the enclave north of Sacramento. It's the largest active fire in the state, and one of more than 85 wildfires burning across the nation, mostly in the drought-stricken West.

    Unlike the sprawling Bootleg Fire in a sparsely populated area of Southern Oregon, California's Dixie Fire is threatening more than 10,000 homes.

    Cal Fire spokesman Jon Heggie says they're trying to get ahead of fire behavior that can turn aggressive quickly.

  • Jon Heggie, Spokesman, Cal Fire:

    We're really being cautious to ensure that the safety of the public is taken care of, to make sure that we're giving ourselves enough lag time, because what we have seen is, throughout the summer and throughout the last few years, really, is that fires have that potential to grow exponentially within a few hours, really.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The fire ignited nearly two weeks ago. California's Pacific Gas & Electric utility said its equipment may have played a role in starting the fire, which has been fueled by a prolonged drought and erratic winds in steep hard-to-reach terrain.

    Heggie says it's all part of the perilous new reality firefighters face in wildfire season.

  • Jon Heggie:

    The lack of rain we received last winter is really showing itself this summer as aggressive fires and big devastating fires.

    And, really, the 10-year drought that we saw, we're still paying a price for that, because all that fuel that was stressed and died during that 10-year drought is still on the landscape and still is available fuel. We're in a new era of firefighting. And understanding that environment and making that preparations for it is key.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In Indian Falls, at least three dozen homes and structures have been lost, but with the Dixie Fire less than 25 percent contained, the worst wreckage may lie ahead.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

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