‘I didn’t think it was coming this way’: Residents flee wind-driven Caldor Fire

Wildfire Watch

EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) – Residents in El Dorado County are collecting their valuables and evacuating from the path of the Caldor Fire that nearly tripled in size Tuesday.  

The fire only started Saturday night, but by Tuesday afternoon it had grown to 30,000 acres in steep canyons around the area of Grizzly Flat south of Highway 50.  

The fire started moving north with the prevailing winds.  

“We have 0% containment and we know the fire is growing rapidly,” said Metro Fire Battalion Chief Chris Vestal. “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.” 

A command post was quickly set up at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds in Placerville Tuesday, but crews and engines didn’t stage there right away. Instead, they were deployed directly to the fire line.  

Fire managers say it is a struggle to gather enough federal, state and local fire resources quickly, given the other fires in the state.  

A fleet of bulldozers have been sent to the fire line, and U.S. Department of Forestry and Cal Fire units are joining in on the effort by the hour.  

While Pollock Pines was under an evacuation warning, evacuations were mandatory at Sly Park.  

At Sly Park Road, a line of vehicles – including boats, RVs and animal trailers – three miles long waited to get onto Highway 50. Ten miles further south, the smoke blocked out the sun.  

Resident Chris Kingsley pulled his horses and dogs out as flames approached.  

“The fire is over here and right next door is my property. And then I own 160 on this side,” Kingsley said. 

Last evening, Kingsley thought he was safe. 

“Last night I didn’t think it was coming this way,” Kingsley told FOX40. “I kept an eye on it and then the wind came up and blew this way and we kept watching it and it’s getting worse and worse.” 

Sharee Sunfeather had just enough time to grab her dog and a few belongings. 

“The warning came early this morning. And then very shortly afterwards came the immediate mandatory evacuation,” Sunfeather said. “Sly Park Road was completely jammed, stopped traffic. As we sat there on the road, we could see the billowing smoke and the orange flames coming through that smoke, sitting there by the freeway. So everybody just all at the same time tried to out.” 

Belinda Wright lost her home in Grizzly Flats to the Caldor Fire. 

“It’s sad. I’m a single mom of three kids and I lost everything,” Wright told FOX40 as she watched the fire from a vantage point on Highway 50. “I have my family. That’s all that matters.” 

Fire conditions aren’t improving and red flag conditions are in effect through Wednesday with extremely low humidity and a wind change.  

“This is just a culmination of a lot of factors that have come together at the worst possible time,” said retired Cal Fire unit chief George Osborne. “Here, we got the perfect storm. We’ve got drought conditions, dry winter, dry spring, enormous temperatures ongoing. But the big problem is a massive fuel buildup that we started seeing 40 years ago. And nobody would listen.” 

“That’s going to create more critical fire behavior, worse burning conditions and make containment more difficult,” Vestal said. “And that’s why all the warnings and evacuations are being done so quickly.”

There were early indications that several structures were destroyed in the Grizzly Flat area but firefighters haven’t made an official damage estimate yet.

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