EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Firefighters are now focusing their efforts on stopping the Caldor Fire from advancing across Highway 50 toward South Lake Tahoe after weather conditions changed from Monday when the fire only made moderate progress.
“The fire’s going to be active today,” said Capt. Keith Wade with the Sacramento Fire Department. “We’re focusing our attention to the eastern front, the eastern edge of this fire.”
That’s because the fire is headed toward Echo Summit, which drops down into the Lake Tahoe Basin. It still had 14 miles to travel as of Tuesday night, and the area has a lot of granite outcroppings and ravines where there is very little to burn.
“Years ago, I would have never thought that we’d be having Tahoe as a threat,” Wade explained. “Over the last couple of years, now we’re starting to realize that anything’s possible.”
Especially because so-called ember casts, burning debris carried by the wind, can hop a mile ahead of a fire, finding dry fuel along the way.
The threat to Lake Tahoe meant more federal firefighters were deployed along Highway 50. More than 2,100 firefighters were on the ground Tuesday working on containment lines and in the air, trying to stop the fire’s spread. Among their jobs was protecting evacuated homes from burning, as well as key powerlines and communication lines.
The steep canyon directing the South Fork of the American River is capable of creating its own microclimate. Mild breezes down below are greatly intensified in mountain canyons. On the South Fork, wind gusts affect fire behavior, making flames rush quicker toward Highway 50.
Tuesday, several spot fires were ignited along the steep canyon walls, and firefighters could do little but watch. The flames could either burn themselves out or create a whole new fire.
The steep terrain has so far hampered firefighters’ efforts as the fire moves toward Echo Summit.
“There’s a lot of granite and a lot of other natural fire barriers that we’re going to be able to count on to help limit fire spread,” Wade said.
A few miles south of Kyburz, the flames reached the banks of the South Fork of the American River, with Highway 50 just 50 yards away. Firefighters had hoped the highway would act as a firebreak, but the likelihood of that is still uncertain.
Meanwhile, as the overwhelming smoke continues to build, Tahoe residents can only watch as it invades their area.
“We understand their concern. We’re standing here in the smoke. If I lived here, I’d go, ‘What the heck is going on.'” Wade said. “We’re here to let this community know, we’re putting up a good fight. We’re getting good containment lines around this. We’re starting to see those percentages tick up. And I think we’re gonna see more progress in the next few days.”
More than 3,000 people – many concerned about the Caldor Fire reaching the Tahoe Basin – tuned in to the Cal Fire community meeting Tuesday night to learn the latest developments.
Information boards with fire maps are posted around South Lake Tahoe, helping to keep residents informed.
“Half the community is a little worried that it’s going to make it over,” said Stateline resident John Peterson. “The other half, been here a long time. They know it’s gonna be tough to get over that granite ridge there.”