Caldor Fire closing in on Lake Tahoe resort

Burning since Aug. 14, the fire has grown to almost 150,000 up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


National News

August 27, 2021 - 3:28 PM

South Lake Tahoe is covered with smoke and ash from the Caldor fire. Officials have advised residents to stay inside with doors and windows shut to avoid the worst effects of the hazardous air. Many have already left. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters battling a stubborn California wildfire Friday near the Lake Tahoe resort region faced gusty winds and dry conditions that made vegetation ready to burn.

The Caldor Fire has proved so difficult to fight that fire managers this week pushed back the projected date for full containment from next week to Sept. 8, but even that estimate was tenuous.

“I think that’s going to be assessed on a day-by-day basis,” said Keith Wade, a spokesman for the incident management team.

Burning since Aug. 14 in the Sierra Nevada, the Caldor Fire has scorched nearly 144,000 acres, or 225 square miles, and remained only 12% contained early Friday.

Winds and temperatures were expected to pick up over several days while humidity drops, adding to the challenges endured by crews working in rugged terrain. 

“That’s what’s closing the window of opportunity we’ve had to make progress and really get hold of the fire,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of the state firefighting agency. 

The Caldor Fire is one of nearly 90 large blazes in the U.S. Many are in the West, where they burn trees and brush desiccated by a megadrought. Climate change has made the region warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.

Lake Valley firefighters prep homes on Highway 50, making sure they have a buffer against the Caldor fire as it creeps closer to South Lake Tahoe. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

On Friday, flames churned through mountains just southwest of the Tahoe Basin, home to thousands and a playground for millions of tourists who visit the alpine lake in summer, ski at the many resorts in winter and gamble at its casinos year-round. 

Johnny White and Lauren McCauley decided to flee their home in the mountains above Lake Tahoe once they could see flames on the webcam at their local ski resort.

Even as ash rained down under a cloud of heavy smoke, the couple wasn’t panicked about leaving their home near Echo Summit, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of the lake. An evacuation order issued Thursday spanned from Twin Bridges to Echo Summit, and though the couple felt the flames were still far enough away, they wanted to avoid any last-minute pandemonium if the wildfire continued its march toward the tourist destination on the California-Nevada border.

“You don’t want everyone in the basin panicking and scrambling to try and leave at the same time,” McCauley said.

Echo Summit, a mountain pass where cliff-hanging U.S. Route 50 begins its descent toward Lake Tahoe, is where firefighters plan to make their stand if the Caldor Fire keeps burning through dense forest in the Sierra Nevada. 

“Everything’s holding real good along Highway 50,” said Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Cody Bogan. “The fire has been backing down real slowly. … We’ve just been allowing it to do it on its own speed. It’s working in our favor.” 

In California, 14 active, large fires are being fought by more than 15,200 firefighters. Fires have destroyed around 2,000 structures and forced thousands to evacuate in the state this year while blanketing large swaths of the West in unhealthy smoke.

A new fire broke out Thursday in the Sierra foothills, forcing evacuations near the historic Gold Rush town of Sonora, just dozens of miles from Yosemite National Park.