A long-term drought that scientists say is driven by climate change has left the western United States parched and vulnerable to explosive and highly destructive fires.

A house is fully engulfed by flames at the Dixie Fire, a wildfire near the town of Greenville, California, US, August 5, 2021.
A house is fully engulfed by flames at the Dixie Fire, a wildfire near the town of Greenville, California, US, August 5, 2021. (Reuters)

A huge wildfire tearing through northern California has become the third largest in the state's history, and looks set to continue growing.

A long-term drought that scientists say is driven by climate change has left the western United States parched and vulnerable to explosive and highly destructive fires.

The Dixie Fire, which this week razed the Gold Rush town of Greenville, has torched more than 1,700 square kilometres (650 square miles) since it erupted in mid-July.

READ MORE: California’s Dixie Fire decimates mountain town of Greenville 

Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns, who is helping to co-ordinate the fight against the fire, said the destruction was devastating.

"I am a lifelong resident of Greenville. My heart is crushed by what has occurred there," he told a briefing on Thursday.

"To the folks that have lost residences and businesses... their life is now forever changed.

"All I can tell you is: I'm sorry."

The town of Greenville stood charred and in ruins on Friday, with timber structures gone completely and some stone buildings reduced to rubble.

Todds said there were no injuries so far from the huge blaze, but stressed it was vital that people in the path of the fire heeded evacuation warnings.

READ MORE: Two California wildfires merge, sparking more evacuations

A firefighter surveys a destroyed downtown during the Dixie fire in Greenville, California on August 5, 2021.
A firefighter surveys a destroyed downtown during the Dixie fire in Greenville, California on August 5, 2021. (AFP)

Town is in ashes 

Eva Gorman has called the town home for 17 years and said it was love at first sight when she and her husband bought the house where they raised their son.

“We walked up to the front of the house and said ‘Oh wow, this is it," she said, a place where her grandmother's dining room chairs and her aunt's bed from Italy fit just right.

“You know when you run across something that fits like an old shoe or glove?"

Now the town is in ashes after hot, dry, gusty weather drove the fire through the Gold Rush-era Sierra Nevada community of about 1,000. The blaze incinerated much of the downtown that included wooden buildings more than a century old.

READ MORE: California wildfires spread, drawing support from out-of-state crews 

The winds were expected to calm and change direction heading into the weekend but that good news came too late for Gorman. She was told that her home burned down — but is waiting until she can see it with her own eyes to believe it's gone.

Before fleeing Greenville, Gorman said she managed to grab some photos off the wall, her favourite jewellery and important documents. She is coming to terms with the reality that much of what was left behind may be irreplaceable.

“There is a photo I keep visualising in my mind of my son when he was 2, he’s 37,” she said. “And you think ’It’s OK, I have the negatives. And then you think. ‘Oh. No. I don’t have the negatives.’”

READ MORE: Evacuations in California after 'fire on all sides'

A firefighter battles the Dixie Fire as it tears through the Greenville community in Plumas County, Calif., August 4, 2021.
A firefighter battles the Dixie Fire as it tears through the Greenville community in Plumas County, Calif., August 4, 2021. (AP)

'Fire is not over'

"This fire is not over. If that plume is anywhere near your direction... you need to prepare. Wherever the wind blows this fire, that's where it's going to go."

Over 5,000 personnel are battling the blaze, which is sending enormous clouds of smoke into the air that are easily visible from space.

The Dixie Fire grew overnight to more than 430,000 acres (174,000 hectares), making it larger than the Bootleg fire that has laid waste to a swathe of Oregon over the last month.

Thousands of square kilometres of the western United States have burned this year, an alarming result of the warming planet that has affected weather patterns.

By late July, the number of acres burned in California was up more than 250 percent from 2020 – itself the worst year of wildfires in the state's modern history.

The Dixie Fire has evoked painful memories of the Paradise Fire, the deadliest blaze in California's recent history.

Faulty power lines sparked the inferno, which swept through the northern town of Paradise in 2018, killing 86 people. Pacific Gas and Electric, California's largest energy utility firm, was deemed responsible.

PG&E equipment is again being blamed for the Dixie Fire, after a tree fell on a power conductor the day the blaze began.

READ MORE: Massive wildfires in US West send haze of smoke across East Coast

Source: TRTWorld and agencies