Fighting the Dixie FireFighting the Dixie Fire

Inside the battle to defeat a wildfire the size of Rhode Island.


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Wildfires have always been a normal part of life in the American West. During a typical year in the late 20th century, fires burned about 500,000 acres a year in California — an area equal to roughly half the size of Rhode Island.

Over the past decade or so, the number of fires has held fairly steady. But their intensity has changed. The ground is drier, because climate change has reduced the amount of snow that comes down from California’s mountains and because droughts are more common. “Everything is burning more intensely,” Robert Foxworthy, a former firefighter who is now a spokesman for the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told us.

The situation is not so different from what climate change seems to have done to hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean: They are not necessarily more frequent, but they are more intense.


Count for 2021 is year-to-date.Credit…Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

For California and the other parts of the West, wildfires have become ferociously destructive. The average number of acres burned in the state exceeded one million from 2015 to 2019, meaning that fires annually burned an area greater than the size of Rhode Island. Last year, more than four million acres (which is larger than Connecticut) burned in California, and this year the number is around 2.5 million so far.

Together, the past two years of California wildfires have burned an area larger than the total acreage of New Jersey or Vermont. “The fire situation in California is unrecognizably worse than it was a decade ago,” Michael Wara, a Stanford University scientist, has told The Times.


Data for 2020 and 2021 are estimates.Credit…Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

The largest fire this year has been the Dixie fire, which began on July 13, about 100 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe. The fire may have been caused by a tree that fell on a power line, sparking a brush fire that quickly spread. It eventually grew to encompass more than 960,000 acres.

This morning, The Times published an article — based largely on videos — that tells the story of the fight to defeat Dixie.

The effort has involved more than 6,500 people, using hundreds of aircraft, trucks and bulldozers. The command center alone, which took over a county fairgrounds, came to resemble a makeshift town.


The command center at the Lassen County Fairgrounds.Credit…Brent McDonald/The New York Times

As our colleagues write: “Each morning at 7 a.m., hundreds of firefighters, bulldozer operators and pilots gathered under a poplar grove for a daily briefing. Some crew members wore sweatshirts bearing the names of past big fires like badges of honor: Creek fire, Camp fire, Lightning Complex. Dixie already had one, too.”

Dixie is now largely under control. But many of the firefighters and other workers who defeated it feel like they are losing the larger war.

“Fifteen years ago, a 100,000-acre fire would be the largest fire of your career. Now, we have one-million-acre fires,” said Kristen Allison, who has been a firefighter for the past 25 years. “Meanwhile, there are five other 100,000-acre fires burning right now in Northern California.”


The Virus

Merck is seeking F.D.A. approval for its antiviral pill to treat Covid.

Pfizer will fully vaccinate everyone over 12 in one Brazilian city to study how long protection lasts.

Parents are sneaking carbon dioxide monitors into schools to check ventilation.

Cargo is piling up at ports as the pandemic continues to cause chaos in global shipping.


Federal prosecutors charged a Navy engineer and his wife with trying to share secret submarine technology with an unnamed country.

A year after protests called for diverting funding from the police, departments across the U.S. are getting their money back. The contrast is especially stark in Dallas.

Gift exchanges between American presidents and foreign leaders are routine. During the Trump administration, they sometimes weren’t.

Other Big Stories

The Nobel in economic science went to three researchers who have made a career of studying unintended experiments.

The Rikers Island jail complex is in crisis partly because of a staffing emergency, causing lawlessness that is hard to fathom. Twelve people have died in custody in New York City this year.

A boom that shook Massachusetts and New Hampshire yesterday has confounded residents.

Electric mobility vehicles — including bikes and scooters — have killed at least 17 riders and three pedestrians in New York City this year.

Southwest Airlines canceled almost 2,000 flights this weekend, blaming air traffic control and weather. No other carrier reported problems.


Gail Collins and Bret Stephens discuss the end of New York City’s gifted programs.

The best family policy Congress could pass would merge progressives’ price tag with conservatives’ ideas, says Ross Douthat.

The only way to divorce the Republican Party from Trumpism is to elect Democrats, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman argue.



Andrea Kane, the first Black superintendent of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools in Maryland.Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

“Racism is alive.” So wrote a Maryland superintendent. Then everything imploded.

The Media Equation: Two journalists started an argument in 1979. It’s still not over.

Quiz time: The average score on our most recent news quiz was 8.6. Can you do better?

Advice from Wirecutter: Lengthen the life span of your toaster.

Lives Lived: Abdul Qadeer Khan made Pakistan a nuclear power. For at least 25 years, he built, bought, bartered and stole the makings of weapons of mass destruction. He died at 85.



Matt Amodio.Credit…Jeopardy Productions Inc., via Associated Press

‘The Amodio rodeo’ continues

Matt Amodio doesn’t come off as an aggressive person. He is a self-effacing graduate student from Ohio who hopes to become a computer science professor. But Amodio is also a strategically ruthless “Jeopardy!” player on the second-longest winning streak in the show’s history.

His biggest advantage is his broad knowledge, gleaned partly from reading Wikipedia pages late into the night. But he also benefits from a Moneyball approach to the game, looking for almost any small advantage.

He starts almost every response with “What’s … ,” rather than wasting mental energy on choosing among “What,” “Who” or “Where.” He pauses after saying “What’s …” even when he seems to know the answer, to double check himself. When the correct response is a person, he gives only the last name, to avoid a needless mistake on the first name.

He also uses a betting strategy — aggressive early, often cautious later — that maximizes his chances of winning the game, rather than maximizing his winning dollar total.

As of Friday’s show, Amodio, who is a graduate student at Yale, had won 38 games, still a long way from Ken Jennings’s record of 74. Amodio has somehow managed to become popular even among the players he beats, The Ringer’s Claire McNear reported: When his total winnings exceeded $1 million, he received a standing ovation from the defeated players in the room.


What to Cook


Credit…Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Embellish this simple-to-make lentil soup however you please.

What to Watch

The movie “Suzanna Andler” takes place in a single afternoon, during which Suzanna, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, contemplates her bourgeois marriage.


It’s worth stopping by these 60 landscapes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are demanding to the eye and mind alike.

Late Night

Kim Kardashian West poked fun at herself and her family on “Saturday Night Live.”

Now Time to Play


The pangram from Friday’s Spelling Bee was friction. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: James Bond, for one (three letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The word “ooooooof” — some economic experts’ reaction to the latest U.S. jobs numbers — appeared for the first time in The Times.

Here’s today’s print front page.

The Daily” is about the climate. On the Book Review podcast, Andrea Elliott and Phoebe Robinson discuss their new books. “Sway” features Samantha Bee.

Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

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