Firefighters scrambled Wednesday to keep a massive California wildfire, which is only 18 percent contained, from racing towards a holiday resort city at the southern tip of Lake Tahoe — after evacuation orders were expanded to neighboring Nevada.
Thick smoke from the two-week-old Caldor Fire covered the all-but-deserted city of South Lake Tahoe, home to some 22,000 residents.
The National Weather Service warned that the extremely low humidity, dry fuel and wind gusts of up to 30 mph could speed up the conflagration.
By Tuesday afternoon, the flames were only 3 miles outside of South Lake Tahoe, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Henry Herrera told KGO-TV.
“With those winds, as it ran through the forest it created what’s called an active crown fire run, where the fire actually goes from treetop to treetop,” said Stephen Vollmer, a fire behavior expert for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Still, South Lake Tahoe officials said a few residents ignored Monday’s evacuation order — despite fearing for their livelihoods.
Tom O’Connell and his wife, Linda, sat on their sailboat in Ventura Harbor, where they worried about the fate of their home, which they’ve owned for 40 years and has survived the Angora Fire that destroyed about 250 houses in 2007.
“You worry about the things you can have some control over,” O’Connell said. “We’ve no control over this.”
Cal Fire Division Chief Erich Schwab said homes have already been destroyed in the Lake Tahoe area, which is usually a year-round recreational spot.
“The fire burned through there extremely fast, extremely hot. And we did the best that we could,” he said late Tuesday.
South Lake Tahoe resident Lorie Major was at the grocery store when she got the evacuation alert on her phone.
“I had to tell myself: ’OK, Lorie: Get it together. It’s time to go,’” said Major, who put on her headphones, turned on the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” and walked home to an empty apartment complex already vacated by neighbors.
She and her mini Australian shepherd, Koda, took a 20-mile cab ride from her South Lake Tahoe apartment to a hotel in Minden, Nevada.
Apocalyptic photos show a deserted and eerie South Lake Tahoe, usually a popular getaway.
One image shows a sign reading “looters will be shot.” Another shows a man standing outside his home, with “no insurance please help” scrawled across his house.
Meanwhile, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak warned residents about the imminent danger.
“I’m standing here and I’m getting all ash particulates on my jacket, even. This is serious, folks,” he said as a news conference in Carson City, where he noted that the fire was about 20 miles away.
The Caldor Fire has scorched almost 312 square miles since breaking out Aug. 14 – and was just 18 percent contained. More than 600 structures have been destroyed, and at least 33,000 more were threatened.
More than 15,000 firefighters have been battling dozens of California blazes including the Dixie, the second-largest wildfire in state history at 1,281 square miles.
On Monday, the US Forest Service announced that all national forests in California would be closed until Sept. 17.
With Post wires