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Dixie Fire: Californians displaced by monster wildfire search for a path forward

"I'm really numb," said one woman whose family lost their three-story home in the town of Greenville.
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GREENVILLE, Calif. — Randy Hovland has lived in this tiny Northern California mountain town since 1968, but the familiar sights that defined his life for more than a half-century have now been reduced to ash and rubble.

The Dixie Fire that has raged across the region charred his store, the Indian Valley Thrift Shop, and an art studio he had been working on for nearly three years. It destroyed the homes of 15 relatives who live in town — including his sister's house, where he lived as a boy.

"The emotions are gone," Hovland said as he looked out at the wreckage of his thrift store. "I'm just trying to stay focused and do what I'm here to do: helping rebuild."

The Dixie Fire, revved up by dry vegetation and 40 mph wind gusts, ripped through this Sierra Nevada community last week, wiping out a gas station, a church, a hotel, a museum, neighborhood schools and dozens of homes.

A home is engulfed in flames as the Dixie fire rages in Greenville, Calif., on Aug. 5, 2021.
A home is engulfed in flames as the Dixie Fire rages in Greenville, Calif., on Thursday.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

"We lost Greenville tonight," Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., who represents the area, said in a video posted on Facebook. "There's just no words."

In the wake of the devastation, Hovland and other residents are trying to map a way forward — in some cases without permanent roofs over their heads or cherished possessions to their name.

Hovland said his relatives are temporarily living in motel rooms or camping out in trailers in cow pastures. He is especially concerned about his sister and her family, saying "she doesn't know what to do" after having lost so much.

"Everything's just overwhelmed," he said.

The Dixie Fire, the largest wildfire burning in the U.S. and the second largest in California history, was about 25 percent contained at 8 a.m. local time Tuesday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

The fire has scorched 487,764 acres across four California counties.

No deaths have been reported, officials in Plumas County have said. Three firefighters have been injured, and nearly 900 buildings have been destroyed, according to Cal Fire.

Annika Peacock, who lives about 30 minutes away from Greenville in the town of Chester, evacuated last week amid fears that the Dixie Fire would quickly spread to her area.

Peacock, a beekeeper, fears that her business is lost because the apiary is likely to be covered in flame retardant and thick smoke that could kill all her bees.

"We are entirely sure that, by the day we are able to return, the bees will be long gone," she said.

In the town of Philo, more than 300 miles southwest of Greenville, Brandy Johnson and her partner are giving temporary shelter to Johnson's parents, her brother, his wife and their three teenage children after the three-story home where they lived in Greenville burned to the ground.

"It's just overwhelming. I'm really numb," Johnson said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Johnson's family is camping in tents and sleeping in the beds of Chevy trucks near her one-room property while they try to figure out the next chapter of their lives. She said they are striving to stay in good spirits and trying not to think about lost possessions — "just stuff," she said.

She said her family is trying to rent a place near Greenville so that, after the fire clears up, they can return to town and begin rebuilding their lives.

"They're focusing on next steps. But as you can imagine, it's really hard to feel a sense of place when you're uprooted and in somebody else's house," Johnson said. "They are still smiling somehow."

Daniel Arkin reported from New York and Steve Patterson from Greenville.