The resort area is on the way to the Caldor fire in California, which is raging due to strong winds and dry conditions.
A huge firefighting force gathered on Tuesday to defend Lake Tahoe from a raging wildfire that forced the evacuation of California communities at the southern end of the Alpine resort and set off others to cross the Nevada state border to warn them to be ready to flee.
The streets of the popular resort, normally filled with thousands of summer tourists, were virtually deserted after the rapid growth of the Caldor fire forced a massive evacuation on Monday and triggered hours of blocked traffic.
“It’s more out of control than I thought,” evacuee Glen Naasz said of the blaze that was driven by high winds on two major highways on Monday evening, burning down mountain cabins as ‘he was rolling down the slopes of the Tahoe Basin.
More firefighters arrived just after dark on Monday and many were dispatched to protect homes in the Christmas Valley area, about 16 km (10 miles) from the town of South Lake Tahoe.
Heavy smoke has impeded periodic aerial firefighting operations over the past week. But since then 23 helicopters and three tankers have released thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant, firefighter spokesman Dominic Polito said.
The National Weather Service has warned of critical weather conditions for the fires until Wednesday due to strong gusts, very low humidity and extremely dry fuels.
Ken Breslin was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic about a mile from his home in the city of 22,000, with only a quarter of a tank of gas in his Ford Escape. His son begged him to leave on Sunday night, but he shrugged his shoulders, certain that if an evacuation order came, it would be later in the week.
âIt used to be ‘No worriesâ¦ it’s not going to skyrocket. It’s not going to come down the hill. There are 3,500 firefighters, all these bulldozers and all the air support,â he said. “Until this morning, I didn’t think there was a chance he could get into this area. Now it’s very real.”
As the flames moved toward South Lake Tahoe, residents just over the Nevada state border faced evacuation warnings.
Monday’s evacuation orders came a day after neighboring communities were ordered to leave as the blaze raged. South Lake Tahoe’s main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, has evacuated dozens of patients. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office moved the inmates to a nearby jail.
âThere are fires in California that we’ve never seen before. The essential thing the public needs to know is to evacuate early, âsaid Chief Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “For the rest of you in California: Every acre can burn, and someday will burn in this state.”
The threat of fire is so widespread that the US Forest Service announced Monday that all of California’s national forests will be closed until September 17.
More than 6,800 wildfires have blackened an estimated 689,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) in California alone this season – largely on Forest Service property – putting 2021 on track to exceed quantity record of landscapes consumed by the flames of last year.
The Caldor fire has become one of the most destructive and disruptive this season, spanning more than 71,740 hectares (177,000 acres) since August 14, with firefighters successfully digging containment lines for about 14% of its perimeter on Monday.
The blaze destroyed at least 472 homes and other structures and left five firefighters and civilians injured, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.