After drawing closer to South Lake Tahoe on Monday night, firefighters were forced to issue a mandatory evacuation order for the whole region as they battled to save tiny mountain hamlets from the Caldor fire.
Strong winds pushed the fire into the Lake Tahoe Basin as firefighters fought to save ski resorts, small towns, and historical sites in the path of the blaze. Officials attempted to prevent the fires from spreading across the neighbourhood, but the situation deteriorated as the day went on.
In an evening update, officials confirmed that the fire had expanded to Christmas Valley and Meyers, a hamlet located about 7 miles south of South Lake Tahoe. Additionally, the fire was reported to be spreading across the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, which is located in the Tahoe area.
As a result of the order, communities south of South Lake Tahoe are affected, as is virtually the whole Lake Tahoe Basin in El Dorado County, which stretches from the California-Nevada state boundary on the lake’s southern end to Tahoma on the lake’s western coast.
For many days, the main worry was whether the fire would be able to jump the massive granite mountain that divides it from the heavily inhabited area of South Lake Tahoe. Many individuals thought that the rough terrain would act as a deterrent to the invasion.
A worrisome sign of things to come, however, was the evacuation order issued on Monday, which indicated that firefighters were losing control of the wind-whipped inferno. In fact, the National Weather Service has issued red-flag warnings for high gusts in the region until 11 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
According to Caldor fire information officer Jason Hunter, the fire was still raging to the west of that ridge on Monday, but he was worried that high winds that were just beginning to blow may cause spot fires and unexpected behaviour in the fire.
The fire has been spotting — or generating sparks that are carried by the wind and start new flames — approximately a half-mile ahead of itself in previous days, but firefighters anticipate that distance to increase to more than a mile on Monday as a result of the wind, he said.
“That spotting is our first and foremost concern,” he said. Crews were especially worried about “embers being blown down from the ridge top and taking root someplace down in the valley,” as they put it.
Considering that winds have traditionally been the X factor in the state’s catastrophic fire behaviour, according to officials, the outlook for the next week may be troublesome for firefighters and those waiting for answers.