The Caldor wildfire was held at bay on Wednesday as firefighters expressed relief that wind gusts did not push it closer to South Lake Tahoe, though the evening and late night hours have been described as ‘make or break.’
The efforts to save the resort town comes as California Governor Gavin Newsom, who toured some of the disaster-hit areas in his state, asked President Joe Biden to declare a federal emergency.
The ordinarily heaving town of South Lake Tahoe was deserted on Wednesday after tens of thousands of residents evacuated in fear of the fast approaching Caldor wildfire, which has scorched nearly 204,000 acres of land, is just 20 percent contained and was just three-and-a-half miles away.
A tanker flies over Wrights Lake while battling the Caldor Fire in Eldorado National Forest, just a few miles southeast of Lake Tahoe, on Wednesday
Huge plumes of smoke generated by the Caldor Fire are seen from Kirkwood, California on Wednesday
California Governor Gavin Newsom (seen right alongside Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter touring the area scorched by the Caldor wildfire in Eldorado National Forest on Wednesday) has asked President Joe Biden to approve a federal disaster declaration
The Caldor wildfire is seen above from a satellite in space. It continues to approach the southern edge of Lake Tahoe along the California-Nevada border
Favorable weather helped firefighters trying to save communities on the south end of Lake Tahoe from the approaching wildfire, but officials warned on Wednesday that stiff winds and dry conditions mean that homes in the California-Nevada alpine region are still in danger.
‘We lucked out a little bit yesterday with some of the winds that didn’t come up quite as hard as we expected them to,’ Tim Ernst, an operations section chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told firefighters in a briefing.
‘We were fortunate the fire did not make as strong a push into Tahoe as it did the previous day.’
The Caldor Fire remained roughly 3 miles south of the recently evacuated city of South Lake Tahoe, moving northeast toward the California-Nevada state line, said Henry Herrera, a battalion chief for the agency, which is also known as Cal Fire.
The image above shows a closer look at the Caldor wildfire as seen from a Maxar satellite in space on Wednesday
The image above shows Caldor wildfire burning near Twin Bridges, California on Wednesday
Burned bicycles are seen on the smoldering remains of a house during the Caldor fire in Twin Bridges on Wednesday
A fire damaged eagle flagpole topper sits on the ground after the Caldor Fire moved through the area in Twin Bridges on Wednesday
A destroyed home smolders during the Caldor fire in a residential community of Twin Bridges on Wednesday
A sign covered in fire retardant warns about outdoor fires in a burned residential neighborhood during the Caldor fire in Twin Bridges
At least 650 structures have burned and thousands more are threatened as the Caldor fire moves into the resort community of South Lake Tahoe
Crews tried desperately to keep flames away from urban communities, where houses are close together and shopping centers, hotels and other structures would provide even more fuel for a fire that so far has been feeding on trees, grasses and scattered homes and cabins.
‘We’re still not out of the woods. The fire is still moving,’ he said.
The fire has been burning toward Lake Tahoe from the southwest along California Highway 50, climbing over a Sierra Nevada summit and descending into the Tahoe Basin.
More than 50,000 people across northeast California are under evacuation orders to avoid the fire including the 22,000 residents of the tourist trap of South Lake Tahoe.
Caldor has destroyed 544 homes and threatens to eviscerate 34,000 structures in the town of South Lake Tahoe. Two firefighters and three civilians have been injured so far.
Now the iconic Lake Tahoe ski resort is also under threat. Resort workers are using snow blowers to try to tackle the flames as they encroach on chairlifts.
Firefighters are now trying to steer Caldor into the areas of land to that were singed by the Tamarack fire – a smaller, more contained blaze.
Tamarack is 82 percent contained and is nine miles from South Lake Tahoe. Fire crews hope they can steer the more aggressive Caldor fire flames towards the Tamarack, which they think will stop it in its tracks and save the tourist town.
‘It’s a fresh burn, and if we get it steered into there… that basically stops the spread of fire. It’s a very valid tactic that we’re trying to do,’ Eric Schwab, an operations section chief with Cal Fire, said on Tuesday afternoon.
Tahoe hasn’t seen a fire of this size or ferocity for some 80 years and scientists believe prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures, coupled with dry and windy conditions, make this year particularly dangerous.
The rush to get out on Tuesday created a surge in traffic on the roads and a race for taxis among those who do not have access to their own cars but by Wednesday, South Lake Tahoe was a ghost town.
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A view of empty streets is seen after the mandatory evacuation due to the Caldor fire in South Lake Tahoe, California, U.S. September 1, 2021 after the tourist town’s 22,000 residents fled in fear of the approaching flames
A home is completely wrapped in fire-resistant material to protect the property against the approaching Caldor Fire in Meyers, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Authorities are reporting progress in the battle to save communities on the south end of Lake Tahoe from a huge forest fire
A bear seeking refuge from the smoke and flames crosses a deserted road in South Lake Tahoe on Tuesday. There are growing concerns for the wildlife in the area
Boats float in the water away from a dock as smoke from the Caldor Fire fills the air in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021
A view of empty streets after the mandatory evacuation the day before in South Lake Tahoe, California, U.S., August 31, 2021.
The sun sets on an empty beach with the sky obscured by the smoke of the Caldor fire, in South Lake Tahoe, California on Tuesday night
Empty chairs stand on the beach with the sky obscured by the smoke of the Caldor fire, in South Lake Tahoe, California, U.S., August 31, 2021
An injured bear is seen struggling to walk with burned front paws in the community of Meyers in El Dorado County, California
An injured bear with burned paws sits under trees near a home in Meyers during the Caldor Fire at on Tuesday
The fire is moving at a frightening pace.
South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tamara Wallace told CNN on Tuesday night she expected it to take longer to reach the Lake Tahoe basin.
‘There was a huge amount of granite between the fire and us and I woke up on Sunday and it had, it had jumped that granite and now it is in the Lake Tahoe basin and homes are threatened and our community is threatened and I never thought that was possible,’ she said.
She said it took just five hours to evacuate the town and that most residents heeded the orders to leave.
‘There was a lot of traffic, but we were able to evacuate our city in just five hours, which is good,” she said. “We do have a very important holiday weekend.
‘But we have good summers so Labor Day is sort of the last hurrah and, honestly, people’s lives are more important than worrying about tourism,’ she said.
A Lyft XL ride from South Lake Tahoe to Reno, Nevada, normally costs $200 but on Tuesday it soared to nearly eight times as much as people rushed to beat the flames.
Fire officials dealt with a two-week old blaze they said was ‘more aggressive than anticipated,’ and continued to edge toward the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe. Now, they are trying to steer the Caldor fire into the Tamarack Fire
The fires to the south of Lake Tahoe rage while more – like Dixie fire – torches through other northern parts of the state. Dixie has plowed through 844,000 acres of land and has destroyed more than 1,000 homes since the start of the month
This is how the Caldor fire has spread in just two weeks, scorching through 200,000 acres of land and marching towards the Lake Tahoe basin
50,000 people are under evacuation order now because of the fire, including Douglas County, in Nevada
Smoke from the Caldor Fire can be seen above the mountains from Twin Bridges in California, U.S. September 1, 2021, as the Caldor fire approaches
The remains of a charred house in Twin Bridges, California, on Wednesday morning after the Caldor fire tore through
Meyers, California, United States: A washer and dryer can be seen inside a once standing home can be seen off of Echo Summit Road off Highway 50 near Meyers, California, on Tuesday
El Dorado hot shot crew member Billy Wyatt walks toward a property while monitoring a blaze from the Caldor Fire in a neighborhood in Meyers, California, on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021
A table and chairs remain standing after a blaze from the Caldor Fire ripped through a neighborhood off of Echo Summit Road off Highway 50 near Meyers, California
On Monday, the famous Tahoe ski resort was using its snow blowers to try to thwart the flames with water
The famous Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort is shown on Sunday August 29, around 20 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe
Uber had no drivers available in the area, leaving some of the people on the ground who do not have cars to rely on rescue teams or neighbors for a ride out of the area.
A furious resident shared a screenshot of the prices on Twitter yesterday. Lyft has since disabled price gouging in the area.
In the meantime, a strike crew of 16 firefighters who would have been able to fight the flames has been completely sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19.
It’s unclear how many firefighters are now left to battle the blaze but at a briefing on Tuesday, Cal Fire incident commander Jeff Veik warned that if one more firefighter tests positive, it could halt the entire mission.
One volunteer firefighter, Richard Geraty, suffered third degree burns to 20 percent of his body. He is now in the hospital and his family is raising money for him via GoFundMe page that has so far raised $40,000.
On Wednesday, injured bears were seen roaming the deserted streets and burning forests trying to find shelter. Wildlife Disaster Network, a group of volunteers who work with California Fish and Wildlife, are on the streets looking for animals to save.
‘This one’s really scary. I’m afraid it’s going to burn down the jewel of California,’ resident Glen Naasz told CBS News.
Satellite images taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES17 shows the fires across California
Lyft prices surged by nearly 800 percent on Tuesday as people desperately tried to flee South Lake Tahoe. A journey that normally costs $200 from South Lake Tahoe to Reno in an Uber XL was costing $1,500. The company has now disabled the automated price gouging
Lyft said on Tuesday that it had disabled the price gouging algorithm, which happens automatically in areas where there is increased demand and few cars.
In a statement, a spokesman told SF Gate: ‘When ride requests outpace the number of drivers on the road, prime time pricing — elevated fares designed to get more drivers to high-demand areas — is automatically enabled.
‘When we realized how the evacuation order was affecting Lyft prices, we immediately implemented a cap and ultimately suspended prime time pricing.’
Uber cars were regularly priced on the app but there were no drivers in the area.
It comes as fire chiefs warned crews at a briefing on the mission to wear masks in order to protect each other from COVID-19.
‘We lost a whole strike team of crews yesterday, we lost a finance section chief due to [being] COVID positive, so understand, do not come to this briefing without a mask on.
‘This thing is just unstoppable
Lee England, who fled her South Lake Tahoe apartment late Sunday
‘I understand your views are important and I will always respect that as one of our leaders, but you are here at a briefing.
‘One more COVID firefighter getting sick could take out our actions to protect the community and the people we’re here to serve,’ Veik said.
Geraty is a volunteer with West Stanislaus Fire District. He suffered third degree burns to his hands, arms, legs and groin on August 28 while battling the flames and he is now expected to be in the hospital for a month.
The fire district set up a GoFundMe to help pay for his care.
‘Richard is expected to be hospitalized for at least one month to treat second and third degree burns to about 20 percent of his body.
Volunteer firefighter Richard Geraty suffered third degree burns battling the blaze on August 28 He is now expected to be in the hospital for a month while he recovers; so far, no deaths have been recorded
Firefighters try to extinguish the Caldor Fire in Twin Bridges, California, United States on August 31, 2021
Embers fly from a tree as the Caldor Fire burns along Highway 50 in Eldorado National Forest, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021
‘Richard is husband to his wife Jennifer Gerety and father to a two year old son. This GoFundMe was established to help the Gerety’s while Richard is treated at UC Davis Medical Center.
‘Any help is greatly appreciated,’ its description reads.
There are 22,000 residents in South Lake Tahoe who have been told to leave but some are choosing to stay behind, either because they want to help firefighters on the ground or because they don’t feel as though they have anywhere to go.
Evacuation shelters have been opened for people with no friends or family to go to.
‘This thing is just unstoppable,’ Lee England, who fled her South Lake Tahoe apartment late Sunday, said as she looked at the Forest Service map outside the Carson City rec center Tuesday evening.
Before leaving, the 47-year-old hip hop skate performer and instructor initially thought – or hoped – she was seeing a storm in the distance.
‘It was only wishful thinking that it was rain,’ she said. ‘It was smoke.’
WE HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO: SOUTH LAKE TAHOE RESIDENTS WHO ARE STICKING IT OUT TO HELP FIREFIGHTERS OR BECAUSE THEY’RE HOMELESS
Among those who stayed behind on Tuesday was David Duet, a South Lake Tahoe resident who is homeless.
He dismissed the idea of fleeing to nearby Carson City, saying his group didn’t know anyone in the Nevada capital, and declined a ride a stranger offered him Monday.
Duet said he and his friends are checking the internet and radio for updates on the fire and plan to ride bicycles out or catch a ride from someone if it gets really bad.
‘No one’s stupid enough to stay when the flames are right mounting around the outside of the meadow. So as long as the smoke isn’t so bad and the flames aren’t real close, we´re going to stick it out, you know?’ Duet said.
‘But if not, we’ll hightail it out. We’ll get out.’
While most of his neighbors fled South Lake Tahoe as a major wildfire charged closer to town, Tod Johnson also stayed put.
The 66-year-old retiree swept up pine needles from the yard and roof of his home Tuesday after spending the night keeping an eye on reports of the advancing flames. The police knew he was there, but told him that when he leaves, he can’t come back until it’s safe.
Tod Johnson stands in front of his house in South Lake Tahoe, California on Tuesday. He spray-painted his house, which is not insured, hoping that firefighters would help save it if the fire reaches his neighborhood
David Duet, who camps with friends in a meadow in South Lake Tahoe, said on Tuesday they didn’t evacuate because they ‘don’t really have anywhere else to go’
‘I promised my kid I’d be out of here as soon as I saw any flames anywhere. And I’m trying to be here to help the firefighters,’ he said.
After seeing gusty winds in the forecast as the fire moved closer to his Lake Tahoe community, Johnson said he planned to leave Tuesday afternoon to join his girlfriend in Reno, once he had packed up a few precious items to take with him.
While more than 20,000 residents and likely thousands of tourists packed roads leading out of Lake Tahoe on Monday to flee the Caldor Fire closing in on the resort community, a handful of people decided to buck the mandatory evacuation orders and stay behind.
With many emergencies, from wildfires to hurricanes, most people choose to comply with orders to leave. However, there are almost always a few holdouts, and their reasons for staying vary.
Of the few who stayed behind, some said they wanted to stick it out, pack more belongings and guard their property a little longer.
Bill Roberts rolls up an American flag in front of his house in South Lake Tahoe on Tuesday
Russ Crupi points to sprinklers he’s set up around a mobile home park where he works as a maintenance man in South Lake Tahoe on Tuesday