Caldor Hearth close to the Lake Tahoe Basin is’ No. 1 precedence ‘for firefighters
STOCKTON, California – A rapidly spreading forest fire is approaching the outskirts of the Lake Tahoe Basin and has become the state’s top priority for fire-fighting resources, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety.
Only 10 days old, the Caldor Fire exploded on nearly 123,000 hectares and destroyed 632 buildings, including more than 450 houses. It helped fuel evacuations and, along with multiple fires across the state, resulted in the closure of nine national forests. Nearly 18,000 properties were still at risk from the fire, which was 11% contained by Tuesday evening.
“There is a knock on the door to the Lake Tahoe Basin,” said Chief Thom Porter, director of CAL FIRE. “We have made every effort to keep it out of the pool, but we also need to be aware that it is possible because of the way the fires burned.”
Porter said the fire is now the “# 1 priority in the nation” for fire-fighting resources because of its proximity to so many residents, property and infrastructureas it moved towards South Lake Tahoe, a popular vacation spot on the California-Nevada border known for its vast emerald blue waters. More than 2,100 employees, 22 helicopters, 50 firefighters and 200 fire engines are on duty to put out the fire.
Ash rained in the Lake Tahoe area all Tuesday, and thick yellow smoke obscured the typically breathtaking views of the mountains surrounding the pristine emerald blue waters.
Summer tourists showed up at cafes, outdoor equipment stores, and casinos on Lake Tahoe Boulevard to take a break from the dangerous air that came from the unpredictable flame less than 20 miles away. The gray sky prompted officials to warn people in the area to reduce time outdoors due to the dangerous air quality.
Firefighters had hoped the towering granite boulders that separate the fire from the Lake Tahoe Basin would prevent the fire from reaching the lake and nearby communities, which include a variety of resorts. But fire officials found that, like others around the state, the fire had already proven them wrong.
“We know this fire did things no one could have predicted, but that’s how the state was fighting the fire this year,” Jeff Marsolais, chief of Eldorado’s national forest inspector, told the Associated Press on Sunday.
Highway 50, one of only two roads leading to the Lake Tahoe area from California, remained closed as the fire continued to span the street. The fire department tried to prevent the flames from crossing the freeway and spreading closer to the Lake Tahoe area.
During a Tuesday evening briefing for members of the communities near the South Lake Tahoe area, firefighters said their possible evacuation warnings and orders could be extended further towards Lake Tahoe if the fire spreads north and west.
“We work 24 hours a day with enough staff to make sure people are safe,” said Sgt. Eric Palmberg, who led community members through evacuations that could occur in the South Lake Tahoe area. “There is a lot to plan. We will protect the community. That is our job.”
At Lake Tahoe, visitors wore masks outdoors – not because of the coronavirus pandemic, but because of the poisonous air and the inevitable smell of fire. The gondola that takes summer guests to the summit of the Heavenly Mountain ski area was closed until winter due to the risk of forest fires.
Cindy Osterloh, whose husband pushed a relative in a wheelchair under the empty cables, said she and her family members, who were from San Diego, were all taking allergy medication to take the sting out of their eyes and keep their noses from running to keep them from smoking for the rest of their vacation.
“We got up and this morning it was much clearer. We went for a walk and then we came back and now it’s coming back in, ”she said over the smoke. “We’re going to watch a movie and hopefully it’ll be clear enough for us to go on our boat trips.”
Caldor Fire Updates:117,704 acres, 9% containment; ‘knock on the door’ to the Tahoe Basin
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Fire officials said Tuesday night the fire was continuing east towards the basin, but they had set up a bulldozer that they hoped would prevent the fire from moving any further.
Porter said he didn’t think the fire would enter the basin, but added that given the extraordinary behavior of current fires like the 1,142 square mile Dixie Fire to the north in the Sierra-Cascades region, he could prove wrong.
“Mother Nature has taken over and taken fires like the Dixie to places I never thought possible,” he said.
The Dixie Fire, which burned for more than a month, was 41% contained after at least 1,262 buildings were destroyed, including 679 homes. It also largely destroyed the community of Greenville, a small gold rush town about 100 miles northwest of the Lake Tahoe area, before becoming the second largest forest fire in the state’s history.
For the second straight day, smoke from the massive California fires kept schools in the Reno area of northern Nevada closed, affecting 67,000 students.
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In total, more than 14,000 firefighters fought a dozen major forest fires in California on Tuesday, according to Cal Fire.
As of Tuesday, the fires burned nearly 1.3 million acres, including the Dixie Fire, the largest active wildfire in the country. The fire has been burning for more than six weeks.
All told, there have been 6,714 forest fires in California so far, which have burned nearly 1.6 million acres – an area larger than Grand Canyon National Park, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety said.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, 92 major fires were burning in a dozen states across the country.
Heat waves and historic droughts related to climate change have made fighting wildfires difficult in the American West. Scientists have said that climate change has made the region much warmer and drier over the past 30 years, and the weather will continue to be more extreme and forest fires more frequent and more destructive.
Some of the flames in the west burned through trees and forests specifically designed to curb climate change, and in areas large companies are buying loans to offset their carbon footprint. In return, the destroyed trees are releasing the carbon they have absorbed into the atmosphere, making the very problem they were supposed to solve worse.
Contributors: Brett McGinness, Reno Gazette-Journal; Jessica Skropanic and David Benda, Redding Record Searchlight; The Associated Press