Lake Tahoe evacuees hope to return home as wildfire slows
Firefighters said the battle against a California fire threatening South Lake Tahoe “continues to look better and better every day.”
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif .– Firefighters are progressing on a California wildfire threatening South Lake Tahoe, officials said on Saturday, raising hopes for tens of thousands of residents who wait this weekend to return to the resort .
Lighter winds and higher humidity continue to reduce the spread of the blazes and fire crews were quick to take advantage by doubling the fire and cutting the fire lines around the Caldor blaze.
Bulldozers with giant blades, crews armed with shovels, and a fleet of planes dropping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and fire retardants helped keep the blaze progressing to a few thousand acres – a fraction of its explosive spread last month and the smallest two-week increase.
“The incident continues to get better day by day,” Tim Burton, chief of operations at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, told firefighters in a briefing Saturday. “This is also due in large part to your hard work that the weather has cooperated over the past week or so.
The northeast section of the massive Sierra Nevada blaze was still a few miles from South Lake Tahoe and the Nevada state border, but firefighters said it had made no significant headway for several days and did not question the containment lines in long sections of its perimeter.
With more than a third of the 334-square-mile (866-square-kilometer) blaze surrounded, authorities allowed more people to return to their homes from the west and north sides of the blazes on Friday afternoon.
Mandatory evacuation orders on the Nevada side have been lifted, Douglas County said on Saturday. But some areas remained on high alert and in California there was no timetable to allow the return of 22,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe.
Although mandatory evacuations have been lifted in Nevada, “residents are still encouraged to remain vigilant as a pre-emptive evacuation warning indicates that a fire still has the potential to threaten in the near future,” county officials said. from Douglas in a press release. “This situation continues to evolve.
The authorities were making the decision whether or not to lift the evacuation of South Lake Tahoe day after day.
“It’s all based on the behavior of the fire,” said Jake Cagle, chief of the fire operations section. “Right now, things are looking good… we’re getting closer.”
The resort area can easily accommodate 100,000 on a busy weekend, but was eerily empty – with the exception of the occasional wandering bear – just before the holiday weekend.
The wildfire has dealt a heavy blow to an economy that relies heavily on tourism and began to rebound this summer after pandemic shutdowns.
“This is a great success for our local businesses and the workers who rely on a stable income to pay their rent and put food on their tables,” said Devin Middlebrook, Deputy Mayor of South Lake Tahoe.
He said the closure would also hurt the city, as it uses most of its income to pay for police and fire services, as well as road maintenance, through hotel taxes and sales taxes.
The firefighters still had a lot of work to do in the prairies, timber stands and granite outcrops. And despite the overall better weather, the winds could still be “squeezing” and locally erratic as they hit the ridges and deep canyons of the region.
The blaze – which started on August 14, was named after the road it started on and raged through steep, densely forested areas – destroyed nearly 900 homes, businesses and other buildings. He was still considered a threat to more than 30,000 other structures.
Forest fires this year have burned at least 1,500 homes and decimated several mountain hamlets. The Dixie Fire, which burns approximately 105 kilometers north of the Caldor Blaze, is the second largest wildland fire in state history at approximately 1,385 square miles (3,585 square kilometers) and is 55% content.
California has seen increasingly large and deadly wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists said weather conditions will continue to be more extreme and forest fires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable. No deaths have been reported so far this fire season.
Nguyen reported from San Francisco.