Before and after photos show what remains of historic California town razed by Dixie Fire

SFGate – Katie Dowd – August 05, 2021

“The most destructive fire which ever visited the town of Greenville broke out about fifteen minutes before 4 o’clock on last Saturday morning,” began the Greenville Bulletin on April 25, 1881. That statement remained true for 140 years — until this week, when the Dixie Fire obliterated the rebuilt Plumas County mountain town.

Over the course of a day and a night, Greenville was consumed by the 300,000-acre wildfire. Flames leveled the historic Main Street, razing buildings that once housed saloons, general stores and banks. While the scope of the damage has not yet been confirmed, photos show piles of rubble and empty shells lining the center of town.

Greenville is no stranger to fire:

For centuries, the Mountain Maidu tribe lived in the valley, building their homes partly into the soil to keep the dwelling insulated during the snowy winter months. In the 1850s, the first white settlers arrived in the region to mine the mountains for gold and natural resources, but a town didn’t coalesce until the 1860s.

Barely two decades old, the settlement experienced its first great conflagration in 1881. The fire broke out in one of the Main Street buildings and within an hour, the stretch was engulfed. Wet blankets placed on the structures only temporarily held off the flames. When it was clear the area was doomed, shopkeepers began throwing their expensive wares out of windows and doors to salvage what they could.

The wind, luckily, was fairly calm and once the fire blazed through Main Street, it petered out, saving most of the nearby homes.

But Greenville’s commercial district was gone. Just four structures built before 1880 survived: the Bransford and Mclntyre warehouse, the McBeth and Compton warehouse, the McBeth and Compton Store and the Perine Bank. The opulent hotel, which had already burned down twice before, was badly damaged. After another fire in 1922, though, it was rebuilt entirely. That building, today called the Sierra Lodge, burned to the ground this week.

On the next block were the offices of the Greenville Bulletin. The editor, Edward A. Weed, needed crutches to walk, so his wife, sister-in-law, apprentice and helpful locals rallied to drag the heavy printing press out of the burning building. The press was saved and, three days later, the Bulletin published again.

The paper lauded the heroism of the townsfolk, who gathered to assist those who lost homes and businesses. The hotel gave away free breakfast, a local woman kept the piping hot coffee coming, and one confectioner even sent a box of candies to the Bulletin staff. “We have eaten so much of it that we are now unusually sweet,” Weed wrote.

Three days after the blaze, there were already signs of hope.

“On Monday evening at 6 o’clock it was raining, over on the other side of the valley, some three miles distant,” Weed wrote in 1881. “The sun was shining here at the time, and a beautiful rainbow was reflected, the seven colors of the prism showing very clearly and beautifully.

“It was a splendid sight, such as is seldom witnessed here.”

Greenville rebuilt. Brick by brick, Main Street came to life again. Over the past century, the colorful little street greeted untold scores of travelers, some passing through for a moment, some settling down for a lifetime. There was a bank again, a general store, a hospital, a telegraph office, a drug store.

Now, Greenville will be forced to resurrect it all. Although fire crews were able to save many of the homes of its 800-some residents, the downtown district was eviscerated Wednesday night when high winds whipped the flames down from the mountains. At 322,502 acres, Dixie Fire has become the sixth-largest fire in California history.

“We lost Greenville tonight,” said U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents the area. “There’s just no words.”

Read entire article & see before & after pictures here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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