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Vehicles and a home are engulfed in flames as the Dixie Fire rages on in Greenville, California on August 5, 2021. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Wildfires are expanding in Northern California after destroying communities nestled in the Sierras on Wednesday night and Thursday, with the Dixie Fire now ranking as the third largest blaze in state history.

Why it matters: Yet again, California is giving the country a lesson in what climate change looks like after just 1.2°C (2.16°F) of global warming.

  • The West is in the midst of a brutally hot and severe drought, and fires are burning in areas where wildfire risk indices are off the charts — and peak fire season doesn't arrive for another month.

The big picture: With multiple record-shattering heat waves, the worst drought seen across the West this century, longstanding forest management practices that have loaded forests with more trees to burn, and human-caused climate change escalating things further, the West faces a calamitous end of summer into early fall.

  • Six of the seven largest fires in California's history have occurred since Aug. 2020, according to CalFire.
Expand chart
Data: Aon’s Catastrophe Insight division via NIFC; Note: Data for July 8-9 in Arizona was removed due to a data reporting discrepancy; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Details: The small Sierra town of Greenville, California, located about 160 miles northeast of Sacramento, was largely destroyed on Wednesday night into early Thursday as the Dixie Fire surged northward amid high winds, extremely dry air and hot temperatures.

  • On Thursday night, the same fire continued to threaten communities in Plumas County, as more mandatory evacuation orders were issued — including in parts of nearby Lassen County.
  • In Susanville, where some evacuees have taken shelter, the skies turned a "Blade Runner" orange as the fire advanced and residents were ordered to evacuate.
  • By Friday morning, the Dixie Fire had exploded in size to more than 432,800 acres, making it the largest single fire — and third largest overall, including fire complexes — in California history.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Threat level: A low pressure area in the upper atmosphere made the fire situation even more perilous Thursday into Thursday night, as towering thunderstorms formed over and downwind from the fires.

  • These storms caused winds to suddenly shift, forcing firefighters to repeatedly disengage from the blaze.

Context: Human-caused climate change is driving an increase in the likelihood and severity of heatwaves and droughts, and is behind a trend toward larger wildfires in much of the West, studies show.

  • Last year was California's worst wildfire season on record. So far, this season is ahead of last year's pace. The fires aren't limited to California, either, with 100 large blazes burning in 14 states.

What's next: In addition to the wildfire challenges California and other Western states face, drought impacts on California water and power resources are an increasingly big concern as well.

  • On Thursday, Lake Oroville fell to an all-time record low, shutting down the hydropower facility there and further straining an already stressed state grid.
  • In an effort to prevent future wildfire and other climate change-related disasters, the Biden administration on Thursday announced the largest-ever expenditure of resilience funds in a single year — $3.5 billion. This includes $484 million for California, according to the White House.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout. It has also been updated to state that some evacuees have been told to go to a shelter in Susanville, not evacuate from the town.

Go deeper

New Zealand passes "world-first" climate change disclosure law for banks

Commerce and consumer affairs minister David Clark and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2018. Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images

New Zealand passed a "world-first" law requiring financial institutions to disclose and act on climate change impacts concerning their businesses, officials announced Thursday.

Why it matters: About 200 of the "largest financial market participants in New Zealand" will have to "disclose clear, comparable and consistent information about the risks, and opportunities, climate change presents to their business," per a statement from commerce and consumer affairs minister David Clark.

What to know about COP26 in Glasgow

A banner advertising the upcoming COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, U.K., on Oct. 20. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 100 world leaders — as well as thousands of diplomats and business leaders — are set to converge on Glasgow, Scotland, starting Oct. 31 to try to set new emissions reduction goals at the COP26 climate summit.

Why it matters: It's an annual meeting, but this year's assembly is viewed as crucial, since climate scientists warn that time is running out to secure necessary greenhouse gas emissions cuts to avoid potentially devastating climate change impacts during the next several decades.

Report: Climate change is an "emerging threat" to U.S. economic stability

A firefighter watches an airplane drop fire retardant ahead of the Alisal fire near Goleta, California, on Oct. 13. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A top U.S. financial coordinating organization took several steps on Thursday to manage the growing risks that climate change poses to the U.S. financial system.

Why it matters: While the Biden administration has been taking an all-of-government approach to climate change, like factoring climate risk into planning at the Treasury Department, today's moves by the politically independent Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) carry significant weight.