Police / Fire

Hollister firefighters join others in failed attempt to save gold mining town

Seven local firefighters have never experienced fires as intense and destructive as the Dixie Fire, now the third largest in the state’s history. Sunday a fresh team of three will replace three others who have been on the fire line for over two weeks.
By Aug. 6, 2021, the Dixie Fire had grown into the third largest wildfire in state history. Photo courtesy of the Hollister Fire Department.
By Aug. 6, 2021, the Dixie Fire had grown into the third largest wildfire in state history. Photo courtesy of the Hollister Fire Department.

[Updated] On Aug. 7, the Dixie Fire became the largest wildfire in California’s recent history, according to Cal Fire. Seven Hollister firefighters and two engines who joined more than 5,400 others from around the country were literally on the frontlines Aug. 5 as they tried to save the mining town of Greenville, located in Plumas County on Highway 89 east of Red Bluff  They were not successful. By morning the next day 75% of the town of a little over 1,100 was smoldering ruins, according to multiple news reports.  [note: correction made, BenitoLink originally incorrectly stated Greenville was in Yuma County].

Carlos Bedolla, interim fire chief, told BenitoLink Aug. 6 he will be driving three replacement firefighters Aug. 7 to the fire base at the Quincy Fairgrounds in Plumas County to relieve the three who were sent in June. The normal rotation for firefighters is 14 days. Battalion Chief Phil Rossi, who was tasked to lead five-person strike teams at the Tamarack Fire in Alpine County and then was reassigned to the Dixie Fire July 26, returned to Hollister last week.

Bedolla said he had just received an update from the fire scene. The team told him as soon as they arrived outside Greenville there was a solid wall of fire horizon to horizon.

“Both our engines were at Greenville last night trying to defend it,” he said. “It’s pretty much gone, and the fire has been overrunning them. The fire went from the 13th largest in California history to the third largest overnight.”

Bedolla said one of the engines had been damaged by the fire but was still operational. He said the local firefighters have never experienced a fire of such intensity. He said while the firefighters are exhausted, there have been no injuries.

“The guys have been so overworked and so overrun they won’t be allowed to drive themselves home, so I will be taking a crew up Sunday and drive them back,” he said.

He said communication with the crew has been sporadic.

“They can’t even describe it, it’s been so overwhelming,” he said.

As he was talking to BenitoLink, Bedolla said reports were coming in that the Dixie Fire was now the largest fire in the state’s history. BenitoLink could not confirm this. He said while the crews will rotate either on a normal rotation basis or by volunteering, the engines will remain at the fire for the duration.

“With this fire season, we expect that to happen with all our vehicles and we’ll just be replacing our people,” he said.

Bedolla said Hollister will pick up the tab for overtime hours, but the California Office of Emergency Services will reimburse the city. He said in 2020 overtime pay amounted to over $500,000. He expects the cost will be much higher this year.

Fire officials said the Dixie Fire grew more than 97,000 acres since Aug. 5, and has destroyed 134 structures and threatens over 13,800 more. 


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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]