SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) – A day after an explosive wildfire emptied a resort town on the southern tip of Lake Tahoe, a massive firefighting force braced for high winds on Tuesday while residents of neighboring Nevada were warned to be prepared to flee.
The city of South Lake Tahoe, usually bustling with summer tourists, was eerily empty and the air thick and hazy with smoke from the Caldor Fire, one of the two main fires raging in California. About 22,000 residents blocked the city’s main thoroughfare for hours on Monday after being ordered to leave as the blaze progressed, eating away at drought-stricken vegetation.
City officials said only a handful defied the order. But almost everyone was worried Tuesday about what the fire would do next.
“It just sucks to wait. I mean, I know it’s closed that way, ”said Russ Crupi, gesturing south from his home in the Heavenly Valley Estates mobile home park, which he and his wife run for a living. . He had installed sprinklers and tractors in the neighborhood.
“I’m worried about what will be here when people come back. People want to go home and that’s what I’m going to try to do, ”he said.
Driven by high winds, the Caldor fire crossed two major highways and burned down mountain cabins as it hurtled down the slopes of the Tahoe Basin. More firefighters arrived just after dark on Monday, and many were dispatched to protect homes in the Christmas Valley area, about 10 miles from South Lake Tahoe.
Heavy smoke periodically hampered aerial firefighting operations last week. But since then nearly two dozen helicopters and three tankers have released thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant, firefighter spokesman Dominic Polito said on Tuesday.
The National Weather Service has warned of critical weather conditions for the fires until Wednesday due to strong gusts, very low humidity and extremely dry fuel.
The Lake Tahoe area is generally a year-round recreational haven offering beaches, water sports, hiking, ski resorts, and golf. South Lake Tahoe is full of outdoor activities while just across the state border in Stateline, Nevada tourists can gamble at the major casinos.
But Tuesday, there were only a few dozen tourists left on the casino floor of the Montbleu Resort, Casino and Spa. The state gambling board said casino regulators oversee operations at the city’s four largest gambling properties.
The hotels accommodate evacuees, firefighters and other emergency personnel. In total, Harrah’s, Harveys Lake Tahoe Casino, the Hard Rock and Montbleu Resort have more than 2,200 hotel rooms.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak urged residents to prepare, saying there was no timeline for when evacuations could be ordered. At a press conference in Carson City, he noted ashes were falling on him even though the blaze was about 20 miles away.
“I stand here and even get all the ash particles on my jacket,” the governor said. “It’s serious, folks. “
Evacuation shelters at community centers in Carson City and Douglas County were at full capacity, officials said on Tuesday. Additional venues were opened at a park in Carson City, the Reno Sparks Convention Center and a rodeo event center in Dayton and the Lyon County Fairgrounds in Yerington.
At the Douglas County Community & Senior Center in Gardnerville, people had their temperature checked before entering a crib gymnasium set up by the Red Cross. Outside, evacuees who had stayed in tents sorted through ramen noodles and plastic bags of clothing and souvenirs.
South Lake Tahoe resident Lorie Major was at the grocery store when she received the alert on her phone.
“I must have been like, ‘OK, Lorie: Get together. It’s time to go, ”she said.
She put on headphones, turned on Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” and walked home to an empty apartment complex already vacated by neighbors. She and her mini Australian Shepherd, Koda, took a 20-mile cab ride from her South Lake Tahoe apartment to a hotel in Minden, Nevada.
More than 15,000 firefighters were fighting dozens of fires in California, with the help of crews outside the state. 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.
The threat of fire is so widespread that the US Forest Service announced Monday that all of California’s national forests will be closed until September 17.
Crews battle the Dixie, the second largest wildfire in state history at 1,260 square miles (3,267 square kilometers). The weeks-old blaze was burning about 105 kilometers north of the Lake Tahoe area blaze and triggered new evacuation orders and warnings this week.
The Caldor Fire has burned nearly 300 square miles (777 square kilometers) since it appeared on August 14. After the violent fires over the weekend, confinement fell from 19% to 16%.
More than 600 structures have been destroyed and at least 33,000 others have been threatened.
The last two wildfires that ravaged 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.
At the Gardnerville Evacuation Center, Joe Gillespie said he, his girlfriend and his son left their home in Meyers south of South Lake Tahoe on Sunday, bringing clothes, frames and collectibles like Hot Toys Wheels from the 1960s Gillespie’s mother gave him.
Gillespie, a mechanic at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, said that unlike the north shore of Lake Tahoe, which is dotted with mansions and second homes, the currently threatened area is home to blue-collar workers who make their living in casinos and the ski resorts that make the area so popular.
The Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort is praised for its unpretentious and relatively affordable winter prices. He will be 75 this year, he said.
“It looks like we won’t open because of the fire,” he said.
Har reported from San Francisco. Associated Press editors Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco; Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles; and Ken Ritter and Michelle Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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