Dixie Fire: A Native American Community Protects Its Land

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Mike Savala, left, and Danny Manning, who are firefighters and members of the local Maidu Native American community, assessed the harm  from the Dixie Fire successful  Greenville, Calif., connected  Sunday.
Credit...Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times

Livia Albeck-Ripka

  • Aug. 10, 2021Updated 10:31 p.m. ET

GREENVILLE, Calif. — For 20 years, Danny Manning has worked to support his assemblage arsenic a firefighter, becoming each excessively acquainted with scenes of destruction. But this past weekend, helium was forced to face a antithetic benignant of nonaccomplishment arsenic helium walked among the rubble of his destroyed occurrence location successful Greenville.

“This was our unit rig, this is our brand-new engine,” said Mr. Manning, 41, who is simply a subordinate of the section Native American Maidu community, and its adjunct occurrence chief. On Wednesday, erstwhile the Dixie Fire tore done the tiny upland municipality 160 miles northbound of Sacramento, helium and his occurrence motor unit were connected a mandatory remainder time aft a grueling two-week displacement warring the historical blaze.

Then, 2 of the crew’s engines, presumption and bureau burned down.

On Sunday, Mr. Manning, who leads a occurrence unit of 12 people, astir of them Maidu, had returned to Greenville to measure the damage. “I can’t judge this,” helium added, solid and debris crunching beneath his boots. “It hurts.”

About a decennary ago, Mr. Manning had helped found the firefighting unit with small much than an aged motortruck and resolve. Firefighting is among the fewer options for dependable employment successful the sparsely populated Gold Rush region. Mr. Manning said it is besides portion of a broader effort to support and conserve the remote, mountainous portion — overmuch of it ineffable to the Maidu.


Credit...Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times

By Tuesday, the Dixie Fire had torn done 490,205 acres successful the sprawling Sierra Nevada, wherever the Maidu person lived for thousands of years.

“This is our land,” said Trina Cunningham, the enforcement manager of the Maidu Summit Consortium, a nonprofit radical that works to reclaim and conserve ancestral Indigenous lands successful Northern California. Ms. Cunningham has besides been moving with occurrence authorities to representation and debar damaging burial, supplication and taste gathering sites from some the Dixie Fire and the machines utilized to conflict it.

“Our hearts were breaking erstwhile it burned done Tásmam Koyóm,” Ms. Cunningham said, referring to the infinitesimal the blaze tore done a ineffable site, besides known arsenic Humbug Valley, adjacent Lake Almanor, which is astir 20 miles northwest of Greenville.

In 2019, she added, the consortium had finally reclaimed that onshore from the inferior institution Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E is under scrutiny for the relation its instrumentality whitethorn person played successful igniting the Dixie Fire.

The occurrence has not conscionable damaged ineffable sites, however, but besides the homes and businesses of respective assemblage members.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” said Mike Savala, different Maidu subordinate of the occurrence crew, arsenic helium walked done the wreckage of the municipality unneurotic with Mr. Manning, the adjunct occurrence chief. His ain location remained lasting connected a thoroughfare wherever respective different homes could beryllium seen collapsed into piles of metal, bricks and ash.


Credit...Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times


Credit...Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times

Some members of the assemblage person refused to evacuate, remaining successful the dense wood arsenic the occurrence rolled down the mountainside, bringing with it plumes of thick, hazardous, smoke.

“I’m ready,” said Reggie Merino, a Maidu elder who lives connected a sprawling spot successful Goat Canyon, astir 10 miles eastbound of Greenville.

Mr. Manning and Mr. Sevala — who successful the lack of their occurrence motortruck are alternatively delivering food, h2o and supplies — had travel to sojourn Mr. Merino, and to effort to person him to evacuate. Mr. Merino refused.

At their adjacent stop, Shiwaya Peck, an elder and handbasket weaver, said that though she was terrified for herself and her sister, who lives with her and suffers from seizures, she couldn’t fathom leaving her ancestral onshore behind.

“I’ve been a tense wreck conscionable reasoning what’s going to happen,” Ms. Peck said, lasting successful the haze among her grandfather’s towering fir and cedar trees.

“If I were to die, I would privation to dice close here,” she added. “On my homeland.”

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