Photography

Inside Greenville, Calif., the town ‘lost’ to the Dixie Fire

As the fast-growing Dixie Fire consumed acres across Northern California, its flames burned down Greenville, which is about 44 miles from Paradise, a town destroyed by the 2018 Camp Fire.

What remained of the town were piles of rubble, blackened structures and scorched benches — ashes covering a community with a history dating to the Gold Rush.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

A charred vehicle in central Greenville on Thursday.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Mailboxes lie on the ground after their posts burned in the Dixie Fire.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

A scorched business in central Greenville on Thursday.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Nestled by the Indian Valley, Greenville is a town with a population of fewer than 1,000 people. Originally inhabited by the Maidu tribe, the area attracted settlers during the California Gold Rush.

The community’s economy was largely based on tourism and recreation, with its downtown made up of historical buildings. “Strolling down the quaint main street of Greenville is like walking back in time,” the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship site says.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

This is what downtown Greenville looked like in 2009.

Google Earth

Google Earth

Destiny Spang, 17, moved to Greenville when she was a second-grader. Now on the road as she escapes from the fire, she fondly remembers her childhood: swimming with friends, riding bikes with siblings, and dining with her grandmother, memories that cannot be extinguished by the flames.

Google Earth

A building in the town is reduced to rubble.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

A bench on the sidewalk in central Greenville.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Most of the community’s homes and businesses were destroyed.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

By Wednesday night, most of Greenville was “lost” to the Dixie Fire.

While a damage assessment is underway, an initial report by the U.S. Forest Service indicates only 25 percent of the town’s structures had been saved by firefighters.

The wildfire burned several of the downtown’s buildings to a pile of ash and rubble — including the Bransford & McIntyre General Store, a town fixture since 1881. A Dollar General store and Greenville High School were among the structures that remained.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

The Pioneer building in Greenville on Thursday.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

The damaged central business district.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

A burned-out building on Thursday.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Greenville is part of the 322,500 acres that have been scorched by the Dixie Fire — an inferno that has raged through Northern California for more than three weeks and is now 35 percent contained.

Extremely hot, dry and windy weather has fanned its flames, turning it into the largest wildfire the state has faced this year. While its cause remains under investigation, more than 7,000 evacuees have been forced to escape its wrath.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

A burning structure in Greenville late Wednesday.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Firefighters work to extinguish flames by a burning building on Wednesday night.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

A burning structure late Wednesday.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

The Dixie Fire is just one of 100 active fires blazing through the country — especially in the West, where parched land and dry vegetation have become a perfect storm for a dire wildfire season.

With months left until the season’s peak, the early onset and strength of the blazes underscore the effects of a changing climate.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Firefighters work to extinguish the flames late Wednesday.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

“The way I’ll remember Greenville is not the Dixie fire,” Spang said. “I’ll remember it as my childhood, as the beautiful small town we grew up in and only we would get. Others who didn’t grow up there wouldn’t get it.”

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

The Dixie Fire burns near Chester, Calif., early Thursday morning.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly identified the U.S. Forest Service as the U.S. Fire Service. It has been corrected.

Stuart W. Palley for The Washington Post

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Credits

Photo editing and production by Karly Domb Sadof