September 24 2021 03:30 pm

Fire officials optimistic in Lake Tahoe firefight

Wildfire Watch

The Latest – Friday, Sept. 3

7:10 p.m.

The Caldor Fire is now 213,270 acres — about 333 square miles — in size.

Containment has jumped to 32%.

6:25 p.m.

Highway 50 is now closed between Fresh Pond and the Nevada state line.

6:06 p.m.

The Caldor Fire has burned 212,907 acres and is 29% contained.

5:10 p.m.

Cal Fire says more evacuation orders in El Dorado County have been downgraded to warnings. They include areas in south Sly Park, west Grizzly Flats and Happy Valley. Click or tap here to read the full update.

3:40 p.m.

Caltrans reports the Highway 50 closure has moved 3 miles east and will now be from Sly Park Road in Pollock Pines to Fresh Pond.

3:05 p.m.

South Lake Tahoe Police Lt. Travis Cabral provided an update on incidents happening in the city as residents remain evacuated.

Lt. Cabral said officers have searched 17 buildings after finding open doors. In 15 instances, it turned out bears, recently seen wandering the empty streets, had left the doors ajar. Police are investigating the two other incidents, which they said involved thefts.

Officers have also stopped six pedestrians walking in evacuated areas.

Cabral said no structures within city limits have been lost to the flames.

2:40 p.m.

Some evacuation orders in El Dorado County have been downgraded to warnings, Cal Fire reports. They include areas south of Pleasant Valley between Bucks Bar Road and Newtown Road, east of Bucks Bar Road to Mt. Aukum Road, south of Highway 50, north of Starkes Grade Road, east of Snows Road, and west of Fresh Pond.

Click or tap here for the full update from Cal Fire.

Original story below:

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP/KTXL) — The huge California wildfire near Lake Tahoe resort communities has calmed down significantly and was growing at the smallest rate in two weeks, but firefighters must stay engaged and take advantage of good weather while it lasts, commanders said Friday.

The Caldor Fire remained only a few miles from the city of South Lake Tahoe, which was emptied of 22,000 residents days ago, along with casinos and shops across the state line in Nevada, but no significant fire activity occurred there on Thursday, officials said.

The U.S. Forest Service said the wind-driven fire began 4 miles south of Grizzly Flats and 2 miles east of Omo Ranch in the Eldorado National Forest Saturday, Aug. 14. Friday morning, the Caldor Fire was 212,907 acres — over 332 square miles — and 29% contained.

Nearly 48,000 people are under evacuation orders as of Thursday, including 47,754 people in El Dorado County, 61 in Amador County and 100 in Alpine County.  

At least 31,901 structures remain threatened by the fire, Cal Fire reported. More than 850 structures, including 661 homes, have been destroyed. Fifty-five structures have been damaged. 

Officials are updating a map indicating the current known status of structures. Click here to view the map.

Click or tap here to see the current fire perimeter.

Friday’s forecast called for lighter winds but also extremely dry daytime weather, with a warming trend through the weekend as high pressure builds over the West, fire officials said.

“I’ll sum everything up on the incident with the words cautiously optimistic, and that’s as the result of a lot of hard work that you’ve put in now in over two weeks of being here,” Tim Ernst, an operations section chief, told firefighters.

The fire was not making any significant advances and was not challenging containment lines in long sections of its perimeter, but Ernst said “the risk is still out there” with some areas that remained hot.

The fire had been driven northeast on a course leading to South Lake Tahoe for days by southwestern winds, but that pattern ended this week.

“Very positive trends with regards to weather, said Dean Gould, a U.S. Forest Service administrator. “That’s huge for us. Let’s take full advantage of it while we have this window.”

This Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 shortwave infrared satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of the active fire line near Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort. Strong winds and dry conditions that drove the Caldor Fire east through high elevations of the Sierra Nevada for days faded, sparing for now the largest city of a recreational gem that straddles the California-Nevada state line. Thousands were forced to flee South Lake Tahoe earlier this week.(Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies via AP)

Gould said the Caldor Fire’s growth rate had declined for four straight days and that its growth from Thursday to Friday morning was just 2,350 acres (3.6 square miles or 9.32 square kilometers).

“The last time it grew that small of an amount was 14 days ago,” Gould said. “Things are clearly heading in the right direction for us.”

Amid the positive outlook, incident meteorologist Jim Dudley warned that the air mass in the Sierra Nevada drains downslope every night and then sloshes upslope during the day and that the region’s terrain of ridges and deep canyons can create winds that go in “squirrely directions.”

“Just because we don’t have red flag wind conditions across the fire, the wind threat is still there and it’s all localized,” he warned.

But there was optimism and progress as winds eased on the fire’s western flank. On the fire’s northeastern side, firefighters with bulldozers and shovels steadily hacked out fire lines and burned away vegetation to box in the flames before they reached Lake Tahoe — despite gusty ridgetop winds.

“In the valleys, we’re doing plenty of work,” fire information officer Marco Rodriguez said. “The crews are working and they’re doing controlled fires … to try to make those containment lines a little bit stronger.”

Residents who were forced to flee South Lake Tahoe earlier this week remained evacuated along with people across the state line in Douglas County, Nevada.

The resort town can easily accommodate 100,000 people on a busy weekend but on Thursday, just before the Labor Day weekend, it was eerily empty.

Yet after days of flames threatening to engulf the resort at any moment, any respite was welcome.

“I feel like we are truly the luckiest community in the entire world right now. I’m so incredibly happy,” said Mayor Tamara Wallace, who evacuated to Truckee, California.

“It’s finally a chance to take a breath,” said Clive Savacool, chief of South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue. “It’s a breath full of smoke. Nonetheless, I think we’re all breathing a little bit easier and we feel like we’re making some progress.”

Russ Crupi, who two days ago was arranging sprinklers around his mobile home park in South Lake Tahoe just miles from the fire line, had turned off the water for now, feeling confident his neighborhood was no longer under threat. The nearby mountains, cloaked in smoke for most of the week, had become visible.

“I’m just happy they stopped it. It looked close,” he said.

Farther west, evacuation orders were lifted or downgraded to warnings in several areas of El Dorado County. Gould said the total number of evacuees went down by 5,500 in one day.

More than 15,000 firefighters were battling dozens of California blazes that have destroyed at least 1,500 homes. One blaze, the Dixie Fire, was about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the Caldor Fire. It is the second-largest wildfire in state history at about 1,350 square miles (3,496 square kilometers) and is 55% contained.

California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable. No deaths have been reported so far this fire season.

For the latest Cal Fire information on evacuation orders, click or tap here.

Residents can sign up for their county’s emergency alert system for evacuation information using the links below:

Evacuation information can also be found at the social media pages and sites below:

The following locations have been listed as evacuation centers: 

  • Green Valley Church at 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, CA, in El Dorado County
  • Cameron Park Community Center at 2502 Country Club Drive in Cameron Park, CA, in El Dorado County
  • Rolling Hills Church at 800 White Rock Road in El Dorado Hills, CA, in El Dorado County
  • Italian Picnic Grounds at 581 Highway 49 in Sutter Creek, CA, in Amador County [TEMPORARY]
  • Truckee Veterans Hall at 10214 High Street in Truckee, CA, in Nevada County
  • Douglas County Community Center at 1329 Waterloo Lane in Gardnerville, NV, in Douglas County: For Douglas County residents only
  • Reno-Sparks Convention Center at 4590 South Virginia Street in Reno, NV, in Washoe County
  • Dayton Event Center/Rodeo Grounds at 500 Schaad Lane in Dayton, NV, in Lyon County: Has room for 100-150 recreational vehicles; Dry camp only
  • Lyon County Fairgrounds at 100 95A East in Yerington, NV, in Lyon County: Has room for 200+ recreational vehicles and can also house large animals at the fairgrounds; Dry camp only 

Families who need assistance sheltering small animals can contact the El Dorado County Animal Services at 530-621-5795. Families with large animals can contact the Amador County Fairgrounds at 530-621-5795 or 530-647-6227.

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