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River fire sweeps into communities; dozens of homes destroyed and thousands evacuated

A helicopter makes a water drop on the Dixie fire in Butte County.
A helicopter makes a water drop on the Dixie fire in Butte County. About 55 miles away, the River fire is charting a path of destruction.
(Cal Fire)

A dip in temperatures and an influx of more crews helped firefighters battling the River fire in Northern California to limit the spread of a blaze that has already destroyed dozens of structures and forced 5,200 people to evacuate.

The fire, which has injured two civilians and one firefighter, is burning about 55 miles southeast of the Dixie fire, which destroyed much of the downtown of Greenville.

The River fire grew by 200 acres on Thursday and now stands at 2,600 acres. Authorities reported 15% containment.

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The fire started at the Bear River Campground on Wednesday afternoon and quickly burned uphill through brush and timber, destroying homes on both sides of the river that serves as the dividing line between Nevada and Placer counties, said Mary Eldridge, public information officer with Cal Fire.

“Fire likes to run uphill, and this fire has definitely done that,” she said. “It started at the river bottom and then burned straight up the ridges to the ridgetop.”

Early in the week, the Dixie fire continued to grow and the River fire burned homes north of Sacramento.

At least 76 structures were destroyed and an additional 3,400 structures remain threatened by the flames. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

The fire’s rapid growth was stoked by high temperatures, gusty winds and historically dry conditions, Eldridge said.

“The timber is dry. The bushes are dry,” she said. “We’re looking at the beginning of August, and conditions are like what we would normally see four to six weeks later, without precipitation.”

Cooler temperatures on Thursday provided a reprieve that allowed firefighters to progress in containing the fire, but officials forecast gusty winds on Friday as well as warmer weather.

“It’s a very complex situation and it’s evolving moment to moment,” Eldridge said.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.


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