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Dixie Fire becomes third largest wildfire in California history

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Dixie Fire becomes third largest wildfire in California history
A burned down neighborhood off Main Street is pictured Friday in the downtown area of Greenville, Calif., after the Dixie Fire destroyed the town. Photo by Peter DaSilva/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 7 (UPI) -- The Dixie Fire exploded by more than 100,000 acres in about a day to become the largest wildfire in the country and third largest in California's history, officials said Saturday.

The wildfire grew from 322,502 acres Thursday to 446,723 acres with 21% containment, according to a Saturday morning update from the U.S. Forest Service.

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"The Dixie wildfire has grown tremendously in the last few days," University of California-Berkeley professor Scott Stephens told NBC News. "They almost had it contained and worked on a containment line, but spots that were still on fire were actually thrown farther away from the burnout operation."

A fleet of Union Pacific Railroad fire cars was deployed to battle wildfires across the Western United States, including California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

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On Wednesday, the Dixie Fire burned through the historic mining town of Greenville, leveling multiple historic buildings and dozens of home in central Greenville.

Pacific Gas and Utility equipment may have caused the Dixie Fire, which was sparked July 13, according to a report by the utility submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission nearly a week later.

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"PG&E is cooperating with Cal Fire's investigation into the blaze," PG&E spokesman Matt Nauman said in a statement.

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Since its inception, the fire has destroyed 184 structures, threatened 13,871 structures, and prompted evacuation orders and warnings in Plumas, Butte, Lassen, and Tehama counties, according to the latest update. No fatalities have been reported. More than 5,000 personnel have been fighting the fire, with 384 engines, 87 hand crews, 124 water tenders, 27 helicopters, 107 dozers, and numerous firefighting air tankers throughout the state.

Seven of the 20 largest fires in the state's history, including the Dixie Fire, have been sparked within a couple years, a Cal Fire chart shows. Twelve out of the 20 have occurred in the span of the most recent decade.

Stephens told NBC News drought conditions, hotter temperatures, and downed trees have fueled the fires and climate change has exacerbated the problem.

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"The wildfire growth in the last 10 to 15 years has really exceeded what we would have considered previously, and we're seeing these fires grow larger and larger and more continuous," he said.

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