EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL/AP) — Fire crews are battling the Caldor Fire in the El Dorado National Forest, as a Red Flag Warning remains in effect for Northern California until 11 a.m. Thursday.
The fire exploded in size Tuesday by growing over 47,000 acres. By Thursday evening the Caldor Fire was 68,630 acres and 0% contained.
The U.S. Forest Service said the fire began 4 miles south of Grizzly Flats and 2 miles east of Omo Ranch.
More than 23,000 residents in El Dorado and Amador counties have been ordered and warned to evacuate as the fast-moving flames move through the area. Nearly 7,000 structures are threatened by the fire.
Cal Fire said Tuesday teams will move in to assess the damage when they’re able, but fire officials estimated that at least 50 homes had burned in the area since the fire erupted Saturday evening.
Images from the neighborhoods in the Forest View Drive and Grizzly Flats Road area show homes and cars reduced to melted rubble and ash. Cal Fire also reported structure loss in Leoni Meadows.
Few homes were left standing in Grizzly Flats, where streets were littered with downed power lines and poles. Houses were reduced to smoldering ash and twisted metal with only chimneys rising above the ruins. A post office and Walt Tyler Elementary School were also destroyed.
“We know this fire has done things that nobody could have predicted, but that’s how firefighting has been in the state this year,” El Dorado National Forest Supervisor Chief Jeff Marsolais said at a briefing Wednesday.
Cal Fire reported two civilians were injured overnight into Tuesday morning in Grizzly Flats. One person was seriously hurt and approached firefighters for help before being hospitalized. The other person was also severely injured and later flown to a local hospital.
Officials have announced an emergency closure of the Eldorado National Forest. Forest Service officials out of the Lake Tahoe Basin said backcountry areas of Desolation Wilderness, Meiss County, Barker Park and McKinney/Rubicon are closed until Sept. 19.
Fire crews said the fire is burning in challenging terrain, making access difficult.
“It’s really tough to make access, there’s a lot of logging roads, they’re thin, they’re dirt, they’re unpaved and once you get in there it’s steep and rocky and otherwise inaccessible,” Metro Fire Battalion Chief Chris Vestal told FOX40 Tuesday.
The governor’s office announced Tuesday that a Fire Management Assistance Grant was secured by California to help with battle the fire.
Fire managers were worried Wednesday that shifting winds could send the fire in an entirely different direction. Cal Fire said overnight into Thursday, fire growth was moderate, but spot fires, which “remain hidden” for long periods of time due to dense timber, are one of the main contributors to the fire’s growth.
Officials emphasized the importance of following evacuation orders and warnings as soon as they’re given.
“When the warnings occur, traffic trickles out of those communities,” California Highway Patrol Chief Mike Dust explained. “ When an order happens, that turns into traffic jams, and it becomes very difficult for people to escape.”
A map with current evacuation information can be found by clicking or tapping here.
Residents can sign up for their county’s CodeRed emergency alert system for evacuation information using the links below.
Evacuation information can also be found on the social media pages of local law enforcement.
The following locations have been listed as evacuation centers:
- The Fireman’s Hall at 3734 China Garden Road in Diamond Springs, CA, in El Dorado County [CLOSED]
- Cameron Park Community Center at 2502 Country Club Drive in Cameron Park, CA, in El Dorado County [FULL]
- Green Valley Church at 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, CA, in El Dorado County
- Cold Springs Community Church at 2600 Cold Springs Road in Placerville, CA, in El Dorado County [Space for RVs and motorhomes available]
- El Dorado Community Center at 6139 Pleasant Valley Road in El Dorado
- Amador Fairgrounds at 18621 Sherwood Street in Plymouth, CA, in Amador County
- Evelyn Bishop Hall at 701 CA 124 in Ione, CA, in Amador County
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. They can also go to Saureel Vineyards at 1140 Cold Springs Road in Placerville. For assistance transporting large animals to the shelter call 916-439-2268 or 530-306-3159.
From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., residents can also call the Caldor Fire information line at 530-303-2455.
Pollock Pines resident Debbie Williams got the word to leave at 1 a.m. Wednesday. She and her husband were packed, but it was still emotional.
“It was very scary and you don’t know how you’re going to feel until you’re driving away and you look at your house and everything you know you couldn’t take hits your heart,” Williams said.
Sly Park resident Rich Skaggs refused to evacuate, fearing he wouldn’t be able to get back in, even after the danger is over.
“We’re ready to go if we have to and we’re watching it closely,” he said. “I mean, what are you going to do? If we leave, we’ll sit in our RV in the smoke and just worry about things.”
“Getting people out of the way of these fires is the best way for us to be able to protect your communities,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter reminded residents Wednesday at a briefing.
Late Tuesday, Pacific Gas & Electric said it has begun shutting off power to as many as 48,000 customers in 18 Northern California counties to prevent wildfires for the first time since last year’s historically bad fire season. By Wednesday night, the utility said power was restored to almost 55% of those customers.
The shutoffs were focused in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the North Coast, the North Valley and the North Bay mountains.
The nation’s largest utility announced the blackouts as a precaution to prevent gusts from damaging power lines and sparking blazes. “Essentially all” customers in the remaining eight counties impacted can expect their power to be restored Thursday evening.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
State officials provided an update on California’s wildfires on Wednesday at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Watch the full video below.