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Fueled by winds, largest wildfire moves near California city

GRIZZLY FLATS, Calif. — A wildfire raged through a small Northern California forest town Tuesday, burning dozens of homes as dangerously dry and windy weather also continued to fuel other massive blazes and prompted the nation’s largest utility to begin shutting off power to 51,000 customers.

The Caldor fire in the northern Sierra Nevada had burned an estimated 50 homes in and around Grizzly Flats, a town of about 1,200 people, fire officials said at a community meeting.

Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for El Dorado County because of the blaze, which tripled in size between Monday and Tuesday afternoon to nearly 50 square miles (129 square kilometers),

To the north, the Dixie Fire — the largest of some 100 active wildfires in more than a dozen Western states — was advancing toward Susanville, population about 18,000.

Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric announced it had begun shutting off power to some 51,000 customers in small portions of 18 northern counties to prevent winds from knocking down or fouling power lines and sparking new blazes. The utility said the precautionary shutoffs were focused in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the North Coast, the North Valley, and the North Bay mountains and could last into Wednesday afternoon.

Very few homes were left standing in Grizzly Flats, where streets were littered with downed power lines and poles. Houses were reduced to smoldering ash and twisted metal with only chimneys rising above the ruins. A post office and elementary school were also destroyed.

Fire officials said that two people with severe injuries were airlifted to hospitals from the Grizzly Flats area. Derek Shaves and Tracy Jackson were helping their friend salvage food and other supplies from the Grizzly Pub & Grub, a business in the evacuation zone that wasn’t touched by the blaze. Shaves said he visited Grizzly Flats Tuesday and saw his home, and most of the houses in his neighborhood had been destroyed by the fire. “It’s a pile of ash,” he said. “Everybody on my block is a pile of ash, and every block that I visited — but for five separate homes that were safe — was totally devastated.

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