Thousands of firefighters are fighting to prevent a massive wildfire from reaching Lake Tahoe, after evacuations forced residents of an iconic resort to flee.
Fueled by high winds, the Caldor fire continued to sweep down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains overnight, its footprint swelling to more than 191,600 acres burnt Tuesday morning. Strong winds had pushed the blaze onto California highways 50 and 89 the day before, burning several mountain cabins in its path.
“[The fire] Made its way through the neighborhoods of Highway 89 and came down from the summit and those areas of Christmas Valley, ”Cal Fire’s Stephen Horner said Tuesday morning.
Crews are working “like mad” to prevent the blaze from moving further into the resort town of South Lake Tahoe, Horner said. But the winds are expected to be gusty and conditions will continue to complicate the shooting. “The fuels are just primed for this ignition,” he said.
On Monday, thousands of residents and visitors to the city of South Lake Tahoe rushed to leave their homes as the blaze neared, causing chaotic scenes and blocked roads.
Monday’s evacuation orders were unprecedented in the city, a popular vacation town home to more than 20,000 people.
“There are fires in California that we’ve never seen before,” said Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire. “For the rest of you in California: Every acre can burn, and will burn someday in this state.”
Ashes rained on long lines of cars stranded on the roads exiting South Lake Tahoe on Monday. Cars drove slowly through the smoky haze, some loaded with personal belongings and others towing trailers with bicycles and other recreational equipment. Anxiety mounted with each gusting breeze, strong enough to shake the trees, reminding evacuees of the weather conditions fueling the blaze.
“I haven’t moved for half an hour,” said Dick Kline, a South Lake Tahoe resident, from his truck as he was stuck in traffic. Towed behind him, he brought his grandfather’s prized classic car knowing there was a chance that if he left it behind he would never see it again. “I’m sitting here watching all this ash fall on it, but at least I’m getting it out of here,” he said.
Until this morning, Kline said, he didn’t think he had to leave. He has been in the region since 1977 and has only had to evacuate once before. This time he escaped with only the clothes he was wearing and his grandfather’s car.
Teams from across California arrived in the Lake Tahoe Basin on Monday, as firefighters desperately try to save resort communities on the lake and hillside neighborhoods. Many new firefighters were immediately dispatched to protect homes in the Christmas Valley area about 10 miles from South Lake Tahoe, firefighter spokesman Dominic Polito said.
“We are flooding the region with resources,” he said. “Wherever there are structures, there are firefighters on the ground. “
Residents across the state border in Douglas County, Nevada were subject to evacuation warnings. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency in his state on Monday, citing “anticipation” that the wildfire in the Tahoe area of California would cross the state border.
The U.S. Forest Service has announced it will shut down all of California’s national forests until September 17. “We are not taking this decision lightly, but it is the best choice for public safety,” said Jennifer Eberlien, regional forester.
Residents of South Lake Tahoe said past fires did not spread so quickly near the tourist town. “This is just another example of how wildfires have changed over the years,” city mayor Tamara Wallis said.
The last two wildfires to ravage populated areas near Tahoe were the Angora Fire which destroyed more than 200 homes in 2007 and the Gondola Fire in 2002 which ignited near a chairlift. at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
Since then, dead trees have piled up and the area has faced severe droughts, Wallace said.
Fires in the American West
The Caldor fire has burned nearly 756 km2 since it appeared on August 14. The fire escalated over the weekend, with containment dropping from 19% to 16%.
Over 600 structures have been destroyed and over 33,500 have been threatened. The fire razed several homes on Sunday along Highway 50, one of the main roads leading to the southern end of the lake. He also roared through the Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort, demolishing some buildings but leaving the main buildings at the base intact. The teams used snow machines to water the ground. Cottages burnt down near the unincorporated community of Echo Lake.
The fire is one of at least a dozen raging in California. More than 15,000 firefighters were fighting the blazes, including teams from Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia, said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Emergency Services Office.
About 250 active-duty soldiers were trained in Washington State to help with the arduous work of manually clearing forest debris.
Louisiana crews, however, had to return to that state because of Hurricane Ida, “another major catastrophic event unfolding in the country that is drawing resources across the United States,” he said. declared.
California had an early and grueling start to its wildfire season. Porter of Cal Fire said that only twice in California history have fires burned from one side of the Sierra Nevada to the other, both this month.
The Dixie Fire, the second largest wildfire in state history, has already destroyed 1,205 square miles (3,121 square km) north of the Lake Tahoe area blaze.
Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive, scientists say.
Wallace, the mayor of South Lake Tahoe, said traffic was crawling on Monday, but hailed the evacuation as ordered because residents heeded authorities’ orders.
John Larson, a resident of South Lake Tahoe, said the evacuation likely went as smoothly as possible, given how quickly the flames moved through the area.
“The fuel went so fast and it climbed the ridge so fast,” Larson said of the blaze.
By mid-afternoon on Monday, many streets were silent and empty as evacuees cleared, except for a few people who still feverishly loaded cars, trucks and motorhomes with their belongings.
But for some, it just wasn’t an option.
Reel Duncan, resident over 15, does not have a vehicle. “It’s fucked up, the evacuation of people who don’t have a car,” she said, adding that she had heard that there would be shuttles for people, but that they were had said they had stopped working earlier in the day.
Diane Kinney, who has lived in the city since the 1970s, said it was the first time her neighborhood had been ordered to evacuate. “Everyone wants to live in Lake Tahoe. There are definitely benefits to being in the mountains, to being with these beautiful pines, ”she said. “But we absolutely have to get out now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.