Latter-day Saints in Susanville poised to flee California’s massive Dixie Fire

Latter-day Saints and their neighbors from the Northern California town of Susanville remain poised to evacuate Wednesday if the Dixie Fire — the second-largest blaze in state history — spreads closer to their homes.

“This is a difficult time,” Quincy California Stake President Cal Huskey told the Church News. “Fires have been ravaging the whole state.” 

On Tuesday, numerous fire resources were put into the Susanville area and residents were warned to be ready to evacuate, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. “The next 24 hours are going to be crucial to watch as to what the fire is going to do there,” said Mark Brunton, a local fire battalion chief.

On Wednesday morning, the Dixie Fire remained active — but Susanville residents such as President Huskey were feeling cautiously optimistic. 

“We have blue skies today and there is talk of getting further air support [to fight the fire]. There has been heroic work put in by the firefighters to save many homes, although some have been lost.”

Wildfires have tormented members of the Quincy California Stake and their neighbors over the past few weeks. Several Latter-day Saint families from the historic mountain town of Greenville lost their homes to the Dixie Fire during the first week of August.

The Church’s Greenville Branch building escaped destruction. “Our meetinghouse was one of only a few buildings in Greenville that was not destroyed,” said President Huskey.

Located about 115 miles northwest of Reno, Nevada, the town of Susanville (population 15,000) was still waiting Wednesday to see if the Dixie Fire would force an evacuation. A few small neighboring communities have been evacuated.

Any evacuation, said President Huskey, “is contingent upon how the fire develops. Earlier, it was burning down the drainages towards the town. Now today, the wind seems to be flowing in the other direction.

“We have blue sky today, and it doesn’t look like the town is being threatened quite as bad right now. So there are actually favorable conditions, in terms of the direction of the fire.”

Susanville’s two wards and a third ward, the Mountain Valley Ward in the nearby community of Janesville, were counted among the Church units feeling the threat of the Dixie Fire on Wednesday.

As the Dixie Fire burns towards Susanville, Calif., Gary Mooney prepares to evacuate from his home on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
As the Dixie Fire burns towards Susanville, Calif., Gary Mooney prepares to evacuate from his home on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Credit: AP

Local priesthood and Relief Society leaders from several units in the Quincy stake are looking out for the members, even as they care for their own families. President Huskey noted that the Church’s partners in the community have responded admirably during the crisis.

 “The Church is always there when needed, but we haven’t really needed that Church assistance, at least for now…. The community has been very self-sufficient.”

The Mountain Valley Ward meetinghouse is not in a fire-vulnerable area. But the Susanville meetinghouse “is on the edge of an area that could be problematic, but it is not right now…. I don’t see the Susanville building being threatened,” said President Huskey.

Meanwhile, the Greenville member families who lost their homes in recent weeks are understandably devastated by their losses. “They have been able to hang on to their faith, but it is a heartbreaking emotional and physical loss for them,” said President Huskey.

Displaced Latter-day Saint families from Greenville have found temporary housing.

The full-time missionaries from the Reno Nevada Mission who are serving in the greater Susanville region have remained in their assigned areas, said President Huskey. “We keep tabs on them. They are safe and we continue to work closely with their mission president to make sure their needs are being met.”

Fire-related anxieties in Susanville are only exacerbated by the ongoing challenges and protocols presented by the COVID-19 pandemic as more and more people find themselves working in close proximity to one another.

“It wreaks havoc at the evacuation centers and things of that nature,” said President Huskey.

The Quincy stake president, who works in local law enforcement, expressed appreciation Wednesday for the fire crews who have traveled to his community from different areas of the country to help battle the Dixie Fire. 

Numbered among the fire crews, he added, are several fellow Latter-day Saints.