Flames from the Caldor Fire descended Monday night from Echo Summit down into the Lake Tahoe Basin a few miles south of South Lake Tahoe, which remains virtually deserted after law enforcement ordered all residents to evacuate that morning.
The fire jumped Highway 89 late Monday near Christmas Valley, hitting a cluster of homes and cabins between highways 50 and 89 just east of the summit and about two miles south of Meyers.
Earlier in the day, streams of vehicles exited east from South Lake Tahoe into Nevada, jamming up Highway 50 for a few hours before the gridlock cleared in the late afternoon.
The fire is now threatening close to 34,000 structures and has already destroyed nearly 500 homes, as well as some cabins, according to Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.
Crews were mounting a major bulldozer operation Tuesday afternoon around the subdivisions adjacent to Heavenly Mountain Resort.
The goal, one firefighter said, was to get it carved out ahead of the significant spotting that’s happening from the main fire line about 2 miles from the High Meadow Trailhead. Winds are ripping in the forest, he said.
At Heavenly, the ski resort has used snow blowers to shoot water onto ski runs and trees in anticipation of the fire reaching into that part of Tahoe, the same technique that Sierra-at-Tahoe used on its lodge several miles to the southwest.
NEWSOM: CALDOR FIRE TOP PRIORITY IN CALIFORNIA
“All I can say is we’re doing everything in our power to have your back,” Newsom said during a Tuesday news conference.
Newsom on Monday expanded a state of emergency proclaimed earlier in August for El Dorado County to include Alpine, Amador and Placer counties due to the growing wildfire.
“It is imperative that residents in the impacted areas stay safe and prepare to evacuate immediately if called for by local authorities,” Newsom said in a statement.
The governor plans to visit the fire zone Wednesday, he said.
LINES HOLDING WELL NEAR POLLOCK PINES
Containment lines on the west side of the fire, near Pollock Pines, are “holding really well for us,” said Tim Ernst, a Cal Fire operations section chief for the Caldor Fire, in a Tuesday morning video briefing. Crews continue to patrol those western zones of the fire for hot spots.
But as winds on the east side of the fire near Tahoe breezed in as fast as 40 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, Ernst said the fire spotted as far as a mile ahead of itself Monday night.
“That’s an extremely challenging fire environment for firefighters to deal with,” Ernst said. Concerns continue as red-flag wind gusts are forecast to last at least through Wednesday night.
Ernst said the fire established itself “well into” the Lake Tahoe basin after jumping Highway 89. Firefighters worked through the night on structure protection efforts. One challenge is the increasing number of structures to protect as the fire advances from the summit down into the basin, closer to populated areas like South Lake Tahoe.
Despite growth in acreage, “we still celebrate a number of victories” in protecting structures, including homes, Ernst said.
CREWS PROTECT HOMES IN CHRISTMAS VALLEY
The fire that erupted along the east side of Highway 89 Monday night reached within yards of some homes in Christmas Valley, but did not appear to have destroyed any.
Crews were working early Tuesday to put out spot fires burning on the hills near the holiday-themed community, where streets have names like Snowflake Drive. Larger fires were still burning in the hills on the west side of Highway 89 where the Caldor fire burned over Echo Summit Monday night.
Along Santa Claus Drive, crews that worked through the night appeared to have held back the fire that torched trees and crept down the hill toward homes. Chainsaws echoed in the hills Tuesday morning, while water dripped from second-level decks, courtesy of sprinklers left atop a roof.
On the other side of Highway 89, along South Upper Truckee Road, fire crews from across the Sacramento area stood guard around wooden cabins. They monitored debris pile burns as light winds fanned the flames away from the structures.