Over the weekend, evacuation warnings were issued to the residents of South Lake Tahoe as the Caldor Fire advanced. Additional evacuation orders now include El Dorado County. Toxic smoke clouds South Lake Tahoe, causing fear among locals and vacationers.
On Friday, only 12% of the fire was contained. Continuously blowing winds escalated small spot fires, making containment more complex for firefighters. Despite the tough conditions, firefighters are working fast, aiming to prevent the fire from descending further.
“We’re trying to keep it west of the 89, and definitely trying to keep it from Lake Tahoe,” Rosie Smith, an assistant engine operator with the U.S. Forest Service, said. “It’s just the extreme fire behavior that we’ve had over the last few weeks has made it difficult for us really to get ahead of the thing.”
The Caldor Fire started roughly two weeks ago and has expanded quickly despite firefighters’ best efforts. As of Friday, the fire had claimed over 143,000 acres of forest. Current reports estimate that this number has grown to 177,260 acres. And though containment reached 19% on Sunday, that number has now dropped to 14%.
While the danger of the fire reaching Lake Tahoe is apparent, officials say that conditions are more favorable close to the basin. Factors such as winds slowing down, the topography changing, and a granite ridge blocking off the town may help contain the fire’s spread.
“The granite gives us the benefit of less fuels, so it slows the rate of spread for the fire and gives us the chance to make a direct attack, potentially,” said Jason Hunter, a Caldor Fire information officer. “We’re focusing a lot of efforts up here, a lot of resources on this side of the fire.”
Still, conditions prove difficult. Extreme heat and rugged terrain complicate firefighting efforts, and Cal Fire Division Chief Eric Schwab reports that the Caldor Fire shows “no sign that it’s starting to slow down.”
Images via Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA