The Dixie Fire reignites trauma for people who survived California’s deadliest wildfire in history

A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite vegetation while trying to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading in Lassen National Forest on Monday.
CNN  — 

When Jessica Roberts heard that a fire ignited roughly 4 miles from where the Camp Fire started in 2018, she was catapulted back to the most traumatic experience of her life.

The Dixie Fire is California’s largest active wildfire, having burned more than 240,000 acres of land — an area larger than New York City — over the course of two weeks. Its size jumped significantly last weekend when it merged with the Fly Fire in the Lassen and Plumas national forests. More than 7,800 residents across Butte and Plumas counties have been ordered to evacuate as of Monday morning.

In the last few days, the smoke, orange skies and firefighting helicopters flying over the remote town of Paradise reminded residents of the deadly disaster that scarred the region — physically and emotionally — not so long ago. The Camp Fire was the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, killing 85 people and destroying the town of Paradise.

The Dixie Fire on Friday was just 23% contained, according to Cal Fire. Officials say the state’s worsening drought and low precipitation levels, fueled by climate change, are making it hard to fight the fire, which threatens more than 10,000 structures in the region with more than 60 already destroyed.

Even though Paradise is not directly threatened by the Dixie Fire, its proximity is unnerving. With a historic drought plaguing California, exacerbating what already looks to be a severe wildfire season, climate change is rekindling trauma and threatening the lives of those who have tried to escape its consequences.

Dozens of households displaced by the Camp Fire, like Roberts and her family, have already relocated elsewhere in the state, but many moved to nearby towns that are now in the fire’s path.

Each day the Dixie Fire burns, the anxiety grows along with it.

“Once you’re a fire victim of such magnitude, which I was and others have been, we watch these fires very closely,” she said. “It’s not something that we can get away from, because of the post-traumatic stress of it all.”