Tuesday, July 27, 2021 - 10:00

It could be days before officials will be able to assess the damage done to a small town by California’s largest wildfire, one of dozens of blazes scorching lands across the U.S. West.

Over the weekend, the massive Dixie Fire roared through the remote Northern California community of Indian Falls. The blaze had already leveled at least 16 houses and other structures, but a new damage estimate wasn’t immediately available because flames were still raging in the mountain area on Monday.

“Fire behavior has been so unpredictable, it hasn’t been safe for inspectors to go in to work,” said Mitch Matlow, a fire spokesman. “Until things settle down, we won’t know the extent of what’s burned.”

Erratic winds and the potential for dry lightning added to the challenges facing firefighters already working in steep, hard-to-reach terrain. Gusts also hindered containment efforts and the problem could get worse with the predicted arrival of pyrocumulus clouds — literally meaning “fire clouds ” — which can bring lightning and the risk of new ignitions.

Fire officials said the blaze had charred nearly 309 square miles of timber and brush in Plumas and Butte counties. It was 22% contained Monday and more than 10,000 homes were still under threat.

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