GREENVILLE, CA — Northern California's Dixie Fire, which has become the third-largest wildfire in state history, all but leveled the historic town of Greenville this week. At least eight people were unaccounted for Saturday amid the massive blaze, officials said.
Although 16 people were safely located, authorities sought the public's help Saturday to find eight people, five of whom are Greenville residents, according to the Plumas County Sheriff's Office.
Officials listed the following Greenville, Crescent Mills and Chester residents as missing: Danny Sczenski, Jesus Gurasola, Ella Gurasola, Mathew Henley, Glen Gallagher, Sally Brown, Harold Brown and Donna Shelton.
"We are seeking the public and the media’s assistance is helping us locate the individuals so we can report back to their loved ones," the sheriff’s office said.
Flames fanned by strong, dry winds decimated homes and most of Greenville's downtown this week. The fire also heavily damaged Canyondam, a small town with a population of about three dozen people. The fire also reached the town of Chester, but crews managed to protect homes and businesses there, officials said.
The fire, which has become the largest active wildfire burning in the United States, had charred 446,723 acres as of Saturday morning in Butte and Plumas counties and has been raging for nearly a month. Containment fell from 35 to 21 percent this week, as fire agencies updated the mapping of the fire, Rick Carhart, a Cal Fire spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Once we got in there and were able to do some better mapping, we found… there is a whole lot more un-contained line out there," Carhart told the newspaper.
Firefighters have struggled to corral the blaze amid hot weather and historically dry brush.
Video: Small town in N. California devastated by wildfire (Associated Press)
"Fuel moisture remains historically low and has caused difficulty in suppressing the fire spread," Cal Fire officials wrote in an update Saturday.
On Friday, firefighters began their shift to 71,000 more acres of charred land as the fire saw its largest overnight growth, reaching Cairn Butte and Moonlight Valley. The fire has damaged at least 11 structures and destroyed 184 homes and commercial buildings, according to Cal Fire.
Cooler overnight temperatures and higher humidity slowed the spread of the fire. Calmer winds were expected Saturday, with temperatures topping 90 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the 40-mph gusts and triple-digit highs recorded earlier in the week.
Still, the blaze and its neighboring fires, within a couple of hundred miles of each other, posed an ongoing threat.
The fire was on track this week to become the largest fire in Sierra Nevada and Southern Cascades history, Scott Stephens, a professor of fire sciences at the University of California, Berkeley told the Washington Post.
The Dixie Fire, along with the River Complex Fire, shrouded much of Northern California in smoke this week, triggering the extension of an air quality advisory for smoke through Saturday, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said.
While an official cause for the fire has not been declared, Pacific Gas & Electric said its equipment may have sparked a smaller blaze that later merged with the Dixie Fire, according to a report released by the utility last month.
A repair man reportedly spotted what he suspected to be a blown fuse while he was responding to an outage in Feather River Canyon off of Highway 70 in Oroville, PG&E said. Due to rough terrain and road work, the worker could not reach the pole for several hours, the utility said. By the time he reached the area, two or three blown fuses may have sparked a fire at the base of a healthy green tree leaning on the pole that held the conductor.
The Dixie Fire sparked on July 14, a day after the utility's repair man discovered the flawed equipment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.