California fire approaches Lake Tahoe after mass evacuation

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California fire approaches Lake Tahoe after mass evacuation

A massive, raging wildfire raced toward holiday hotspot Lake Tahoe on Tuesday, just hours after thousands of people were forced to flee a nearby mountain resort town.

The popular getaway of South Lake Tahoe, home to some 22,000 residents, cleared out under evacuation orders as the two-week-old Caldor Fire tore through drought-parched forests.

“There is fire activity in California that we have never seen before,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said in a briefing Monday.

Overnight, the blaze had raced eight miles in one direction and seven miles in another in an area northeast of Highway 50, one of the main routes out of the lake’s south end, officials said.

With the fire approaching, evacuees were trapped in gridlock traffic on Highway 50, stalled as smoke clouded the area’s normally pristine skies.

A child looks out of the window of her mother's car while they wait in an evacuation line on Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe on August 30, 2021.
A child looks out of the window of her mother’s car while they wait in an evacuation line on Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe on August 30, 2021.
Brontë Wittpenn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Since starting two weeks ago, the Caldor Fire has destroyed nearly 292 square miles.
Since starting two weeks ago, the Caldor Fire has destroyed nearly 292 square miles.
AP/Noah Berger
Smoke from the Caldor Fire rises from Ralston Peak along HWY 50 near Twin Bridges, California.
Smoke from the Caldor Fire rises from Ralston Peak along HWY 50 near Twin Bridges, California.
Peter DaSilva/UPI

Photos showed motorists jumping out of their vehicles and wandering into the middle of the road to gawk at the bumper-to-bumper chaos.

Other photos showed apocalyptic scenes of a house engulfed in flames, a lone car driving along a road with a backdrop of thick smoke, and red hot fire ripping through bushland.

Ken Breslin was stuck in the traffic jam less than a mile from his home in South Lake Tahoe, with only a quarter-tank of gas in his Ford Escape.

A fire truck drives down Highway 50 as the Caldor Fire approaches in El Dorado County, California.
A fire truck drives down Highway 50 as the Caldor Fire approaches in El Dorado County, California.
EPA/CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA
Since starting two weeks ago, the Caldor Fire has destroyed nearly 292 square miles.
Since starting two weeks ago, the Caldor Fire has destroyed nearly 292 square miles.
AP/Noah Berger

“Before, it was, ‘No worries … it’s not going to crest. It’s not gonna come down the hill. There’s 3,500 firefighters, all those bulldozers and all the air support,’” he said.

“Until this morning, I didn’t think there was a chance it could come into this area. Now, it’s very real.”

The threat of the wildfire had forced the US Forest Service to take the unusual step Monday of closing all 18 national forests in California until Sept. 17.

Smoke from the Caldor fire shrouds Fannette Island and obstructs the scenic view of Lake Tahoe from Inspiration Point.
Smoke from the Caldor fire shrouds Fannette Island and obstructs the scenic view of Lake Tahoe from Inspiration Point.
Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
22,000 South Lake Tahoe residents cleared out under evacuation orders as the Caldor Fire tore through its drought-parched forests.
22,000 South Lake Tahoe residents cleared out under evacuation orders as the Caldor Fire tore through its drought-parched forests.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“We do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety,” Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien said.

The Caldor Fire broke out Aug. 14 and has since scorched nearly 292 square miles.

The blaze was only 15 percent contained after destroying more than 600 structures and threatening 20,000 more, officials said.

A firefighter monitors the Caldor Fire as it burns near homes in South Lake Tahoe.
A firefighter monitors the Caldor Fire as it burns near homes in South Lake Tahoe.
AP/Jae C. Hong
This satellite image shows the Caldor Fire engulfing Lake Tahoe, California.
This satellite image shows the Caldor Fire engulfing Lake Tahoe, California.
Planet Labs Inc. via AP

More than 15,000 firefighters were up against dozens of California blazes, with crews recruited from Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia, said Mark Ghilarducci, director of California’s Office of Emergency Services.

With Post wires

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