By Jeri Chadwell and Kristen Hackbarth | 9:43 p.m. update
Residents were ordered to evacuate the city of South Lake Tahoe and the southern portion of the lake Monday afternoon as the Caldor Fire rushed into the region, entering Christmas Valley and the community of Meyers.
The orders affected more than 53,000 people in El Dorado County, some 22,000 of them residents of South Lake Tahoe.
Gov. Steve Sisolak also declared a state of emergency in response to the fire (see below), anticipating it may cross into Nevada in the coming days.
As of Monday afternoon, fire officials said the fire was not burning structures in the area of Meyers, as yet, but that extreme fire conditions were expected to continue through the night and into Tuesday based upon expected weather conditions. They noted that a “large contingent of resources” from local law enforcement and fire agencies have been deployed to the area.
The fire was estimated to have burned nearly 187,000 acres, and was 15% contained as of Monday night.
Fire officials said agencies and residents have been preparing to fight a fire like this in the region, noting that firefighting resources have been ordered, filled and were enroute to the fire as of Monday afternoon. An incident management team has also been put into place to provide a command and control infrastructure for operations, logistics, information and planning issues.
This team will provide support particularly for efforts on the eastern portion of the fire and will integrate and work together with the existing command structure, fire officials said.
A better assessment of the fire and its containment is expected in the next few days.
Eric Palmer, public information officer for Eldorado County Sheriff’s Office, thanked Cal Fire, the United States Forest Service and local law enforcement agencies for their roles in evacuations and combating the blaze.
He said law enforcement officers from agencies across the state responded to assist with evacuations and that they were completed. He also thanked citizens for heeding evacuation orders.
Clive Savacool, the fire chief for South Lake Tahoe, said plans for evacuations had been underway for the last week and half and went “relatively smoothly” considering that thousands had to flee the area. He said residents’ heeding of evacuation orders allowed fire crews to focus on combating the blaze.
Residents reported being stuck in gridlock traffic for hours leaving Tahoe.
El Dorado County Sheriff’s Caldore Fire map
Chris Anthony, a Cal Fire division chief based in South Lake Tahoe, told those gathered for a press briefing Monday afternoon that it is necessary to face the reality that the region is seeing more and more destructive fires increasingly.
“Historically, we’ve used the terms such as anomaly, unprecedented or extreme to describe the wildfires that we have seen burn throughout the state,” he said. “Over the past 10 to 20 years, these terms are no longer appropriate given the clear trends associated with drought, changing climate and un-resilient forest stands. Unfortunately, these factors contribute to the resistance to control that we’re seeing with the Caldor Fire.”
Anthony said the assembled group of fire officials are “used to winning” and “that every single firefighter and law enforcement officer out on the line is doing absolutely everything they can to protect lives, property and natural resources.”
He referenced 2007’s Angora Fire, which ignited from the embers of an abandoned campfire in 2007 near Angora Creek on the edge of South Lake Tahoe and caught the surrounding national forest on fire. It was relatively tiny compared to the Caldor Fire, at about 3,100 acres, but it caused significant property damage.
He said since the Angora fire, federal, state and local fire officials and law enforcement agencies have worked with about 20 private organizations to prepare for the next big wildfire to burn near Lake Tahoe
“We knew it could happen, and we spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours on public education, evacuation planning, community meetings, defensible space inspections … fuels reduction programs,” Anthony said. “Although we cannot predict the outcome of the Caldor Fire, I want to remind the Tahoe community that you are prepared. We stand together to do everything we can to protect the lives, resources, communities and businesses of the Lake Tahoe Basin.”
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Residents of South Lake Tahoe must leave their homes after fire officials issued another round of mandatory evacuations Monday in response to the rapidly growing and barely contained Caldor Fire. The evacuation orders include the entire southern part of Lake Tahoe from Stateline clockwise west and north to include the Tahoma area.
Officials estimate more than 20,000 structures are threatened by the fire.
Most evacuees have been told to travel east on Highway 50 towards Nevada, with those in the Fallen Leaf and Tahoma told to travel north on Highway 89 toward Truckee. Evacuation shelters have been set up in Truckee and Gardnerville. Highway 50 West, Highway 88 West and parts of Highway 89 are closed. Some residents have already been evacuated, but still others are stuck in a mass exodus of cars.
Gov. Steve Sisolak today declared a state of emergency in response to the fire, anticipating it may cross into Nevada in the coming days. The declaration ensures resources from local, state and federal agencies are available should they be needed.
The fire has burned more than 177,000 acres—increasing by more than 7,000 acres since this morning’s update–and is 14% contained. Fire officials said conditions remain critical with dry conditions and early morning winds. “Current fire behavior is contributing to ember casts traveling up to half a mile,” one update noted.
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Visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7801/ for the latest information.