Wildfires raging across California have forced almost 16,000 evacuations, including a blaze northeast of Sacramento that laid waste to an entire town.

The Dixie Fire, which troubled utility giant PG&E Corp. said may have been sparked by one of its power lines, ripped through the gold-rush-era hamlet of Greenville late Wednesday, leveling buildings, melting street lamp posts and leaving downtown in ruins, according to local news reports.

“We lost Greenville,” Doug LaMalfa, a U.S. Congressman who represents the area, said in a video statement. “We have to stop making this happen.”

The blaze is among more than a dozen major fires burning across the region, prompting 15,900 evacuations by 9 a.m. local time, according to the California Office of Emergency Services. The number of acres burned in the state this year has jumped 151 per cent compared to the same months last year, state fire officials say, as the entire U.S. West is gripped by a historic drought and as climate change fuels extreme weather around the globe. Turkey is battling its worst wildfires in decades, and Greece had its hottest day on record this week.

About 60 miles south of Greenville, a second blaze forced residents to flee after erupting Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday morning, the River Fire had swelled to 2,400 acres (970 hectares) and destroyed 50 buildings.

Destruction from the Dixie Fire could be a blow for PG&E, which emerged from bankruptcy last year after sparking a series of wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that killed more than 100 people. The utility said last month that a worker investigating a power outage near the start of the blaze found a tree leaning against a power line. PG&E shares fell as much as 4.4 per cent Thursday.

The Dixie Fire started July 14 and has ripped through more than 322,000 acres, destroying 45 buildings, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Another 12,000 buildings are in danger. Damage estimates in Greenville are still underway, and it’s unclear if there are casualties. The blaze, now the 6th largest in California history, is 35 per cent contained.

“If you are still in the Greenville area, you are in imminent danger and you must leave now!” the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office said on its Facebook page.

Firefighters worked much of Wednesday to prevent the flames from entering Greenville, Jake Cagle, an operations sections chief with the U.S. Forest Service, said during a briefing. At times it moved as fast as a half a mile an hour. At about 4 p.m. local time, the blaze leapt over a road and raced toward town.

“There are still a lot of people unfortunately in Greenville that did not evacuate,” Cagle said during the briefing Wednesday. “Right now we can’t protect the structures because we are trying to get people out of there.”

Firefighters face a difficult day in California on Thursday. High-wind warnings are in place for much of the state, which means fires will start easily and spread quickly.

Meteorologists also warned that shifting winds could bring smoke from the fires flooding into the state’s Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area in the coming days.

“These are not the normal fires anymore,” Cagle said. “It’s just intense fire behavior, and it’s not what we are used to.”