Ski resorts pitch in to help fight Caldor Fire; 5 injuries reported
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Flames from the Caldor Fire are pushing perilously close to South Lake Tahoe and nearby resort communities and Cal Fire said they are focusing on several unburned areas along Highway 50 as well the northeast side of the fire that was advancing just three miles from the popular destination spot.
Nearly 4,000 firefighters are battling through brutally intense heat with red flag warnings in effect through Tuesday night.
By Wednesday morning, the fire had consumed about 204,000 acres and was only 20% contained.
Winds have whipped embers and flames at high speeds according to Steven Volmer, a fire behavior analyst with Cal Fire. At some spots, Volmer said, the fire is burning 200 feet per minute.
"The fire actually goes from treetop to treetop. When it does that those ember casts are going more than a mile in distance so that's what's propagating the fire right now," said Volmer at a community briefing Tuesday evening.
Spot fires crossed Highway 50 to the Christmas Valley area. Fire crews were able to save structures, but evacuation zones expanded.
Cal Fire reported Tuesday night that the fire had grown to 199,632 acres with 18% containment, 491 residences destroyed, and 34,834 structures threatened.
"It's our No. 1 priority. Putting everything we've got on it," said California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The evacuations have impacted more than 59,000 people since the fire broke out Aug. 14.
New evacuation warnings were issued Tuesday in Douglas County, Nevada just over the state line, as well as in Alpine County and along Highway 88.
Casinos in the Reno area are not being evacuated.
"We were able to evacuate our entire community in four and a half hours," said Tamara Wallace, the South Lake Tahoe Mayor, who says she too was caught in the evacuation traffic.
"We tried to hold out as long as we could. Didn't want to leave until we seen flames," said Anthony Lopez, an evacuee.
One evacuee Debbie Rosina of Kyburz says she has moved four times since Aug. 17.
"I've just been going from point to point to point moving. And all the motels, even the sleaze ball ones, want more than $100 a night," said Rosina.
Rosina says she went to a shelter in Gardnerville, Nevada, but shelter staff announced it was full and were directing people to another shelter in Reno.
"They want us to go to Reno. No. I'll just pull over on the side of the road. I understand they have to do things, but this makes no sense," said Rosina.
Cal fire analysts say the dense woodland area has a lot of fuel that has not burned in some areas since before 1940.
Ski resorts are joining the firefight. Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort on the east side of South Lake Tahoe is among those working with fire crews by using snow blowers to pump moisture onto the mountains, key infrastructure and into the air.
So far, Cal Fire says there have been no deaths from the Caldor Fire, but two civilians and three firefighters have been injured.
Among the injured is West Stanislaus Volunteer Firefighter Richard Gerety. His colleagues have set up a Gofundme donation drive to help his wife and two sons.
His colleagues say Gerety is at UC Davis Medical Center with second and third degree burns over 20% of his body. He is expected to be hospitalized for at least one month.
The El Dorado Community Foundation and Red Cross are also accepting donations for fire victims if people would like to help.
This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.
Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.