Cabins in the Aspen Creek Tract on Highway 50 burn as the Caldor Fire moves toward Lake Tahoe on Sunday evening, Aug. 29, 2021. BY SARA NEVIS
UPDATED AUGUST 30, 2021 11:59 AM
The entire city of South Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas along the west and south shores have been ordered to evacuate due to the raging Caldor Fire, which has been creeping toward the lake for more than two weeks since igniting near Pollock Pines.
The formal exodus comes after South Lake Tahoe’s roughly 22,000 residents were given an evacuation warning late Sunday, told to be ready at a moment’s notice to evacuate. Nearly 30,000 residents had already been evacuated from the eastern half of El Dorado County.
At 10 a.m., fire and sheriff’s officials upgraded the warning to a mandatory order for all but the northeastern corner of the city, near State line. Authorities expanded the order at 11 a.m. to include the entire city.
The city in a Facebook post said the evacuation “will be done systematically by neighborhood.”
“Stay calm, gather your go bags and important items, and execute your evacuation plan,” city officials wrote.
Those evacuating from South Lake Tahoe should leave eastbound on Highway 50 toward Nevada, Cal Fire and sheriff’s officials said.
Evacuation shelters have been established at the Truckee Veterans Hall and Douglas Community Center in Gardnerville.
Barton Memorial Hospital evacuated its patients Sunday night and will transfer its emergency services to the Lake Tahoe Surgery Center in Zephyr Cove,
‘IT’S TERRIFYING,’ TAHOE EVACUEE SAYS
Much of South Lake Tahoe was evacuated by 11 a.m., with stragglers rushing to get their belongings into vehicles. Police drove through residential areas, using loudspeakers and sirens to order people to leave.
On 12th Street, Jess Anderson, his ex-wife Corinne Kobel and their 11-year-old son Ethan were hurriedly packing vehicles in an otherwise empty neighborhood.
“I got a knock at 10 p.m. last night with a warning to be ready. At 10 a.m. this morning, it was the sheriffs kicking us out,” Kobel said.
As she spoke, a Winters police SUV drove down the street, with officers ordering her family to leave immediately over the loudspeakers.
“I am freaking out,” Kobel said. It’s closer to my place than (her ex’s place), and for an entire town to be evacuated, that’s pretty intense. And it’s red flag warnings for today and tomorrow so that’s not in our favor. It’s terrifying.”CANNABIS WEEKLY
Her ex-husband, Anderson, a ski instructor at Heavenly, also was fretting about the weather forecast. “With the winds and stuff, that whole area is loaded with fuel.”
Kobel said the closest thing to the Caldor Fire she’d ever witnessed was the Angora Fire, in 2007. “But that way that was burning, it wasn’t a super threat,” she said, adding that she’s grateful to the firefighters.
“They’re doing their best, these poor guys. They’re working so hard in this terrain. Can you imagine what they’re up against?”
TAHOE WEST SHORE EVACUATIONS
El Dorado County sheriff’s officials also issued new mandatory orders Monday just southeast of city limits, as well as communities along the west shore of the lake, which are popular vacation destinations.
Those included neighborhoods along Pioneer Trail, north of Elk Cub Trail through Al Tahoe Boulevard, according to the Caldor Fire evacuation map, as well as along Highway 89 from Emerald Bay up through the Placer County line on the west share of the lake, including most of the town of Tahoma. Highway 89 is open for those evacuating from the west shore.
Cabins burned near the summit Sunday, and critical fire weather conditions are anticipated starting midday Monday and lasting through at least Tuesday.Play VideoDuration 0:51See cabins destroyed on Highway 50 near the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resortA group of cabins destroyed in the Caldor Fire smolders on Aug. 30, 2021. The cabins were located on Highway 50 near the Sierra-at Tahoe ski resort. BY PAUL KITAGAKI, JR.
All city operations and facilities except public safety closed Monday morning until further notice, South Lake Tahoe city officials wrote in a Facebook post.
Mandatory orders were also expanded Sunday into parts of Amador and Alpine counties, along with Desolation Wilderness.
A nearly 50-mile stretch of Highway 50 between Pollock Pines and Meyers remains closed. Highway 88 is also closed for a similar length, between the Dew Drop bypass in Amador County to Picketts Junction with Highway 89 in Alpine County, according to Caltrans.
Those evacuating from areas near South Lake Tahoe must either head on Highway 89 along the west side of the lake — which is under an evacuation warning as far north as Tahoma — or Highway 50 on the east side, into Nevada at Stateline.
More than 20,000 structures are threatened by the Caldor Fire and nearly 500 homes have already been destroyed, many of them in the town of Grizzly Flats south of Pollock Pines, according to Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.
HOW MUCH HAS BURNED?
The Caldor Fire is now 177,260 acres (277 square miles) with 14% containment, Cal Fire and Forest Service officials reported Monday morning. It grew nearly 10,000 acres overnight.
CALDOR FIRE MAP
Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
The fire is spotting ahead of itself with embers traveling up to half a mile, Cal Fire said in its morning incident update.
“Fuel conditions remain critical and we still see active crown runs and group torching in the northeastern divisions of the fire,” which is near Tahoe, the Monday morning incident report reads in part.
Some may choose to evacuate ahead of mandatory orders. Barton Memorial Hospital, which has 63 patient beds and a skilled nursing facility with 48 resident beds, said Sunday night it was evacuating those patients. The hospital’s emergency department remains open as of Monday morning.
The blaze sparked Aug. 14 in rugged terrain south of Pollock Pines. It erupted in its early days, largely destroying the town of Grizzly Flats and prompting urgent evacuations for the Pollock Pines, Sly Park and Kyburz areas. The fire has crept east along Highway 50 over the past two weeks, burning this past weekend on both the north and south sides of the highway.
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said Sunday evening that nearly 30,000 residents have evacuated from El Dorado County, plus nearly 4,000 more from Amador and Alpine counties, due to the Caldor Fire.
Two civilians have been injured by the Caldor Fire, both of them in Grizzly Flats, along with three first responders, according to Cal Fire and the Forest Service.
POOR WEATHER OUTLOOK
Fire risk is dire this week due to gusty winds and low humidity with Caldor already raging.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for critical fire weather conditions, in place for much of the Sierra Nevada mountains and surrounding foothills from 2 p.m. Monday to 11 p.m. Wednesday. It had originally been set to expire Tuesday night but was extended by 24 hours due to worsening forecasts.
Forecasters now predict gusts blowing in from the southwest could reach up to 25 mph near South Lake Tahoe on Monday, 30 mph on Tuesday and 25 mph again Wednesday.
The red flag warning also warned that gusts along Sierra ridge lines could hit 50 mph Monday night into Tuesday.
The winds are southwesterly, meaning they are blowing the Caldor Fire toward South Lake Tahoe.
SKI RESORT, FABLED CAMPGROUND SURVIVE
Further down the hill, there was some good news to report. Camp Sacramento, a cherished family camp run by the city of Sacramento just south of 50, was still standing.
So, too, were nearly all of the structures at Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, just west of Echo Summit.
At the ski resort, the fire burned completely up the ski runs and through the heavily forested area. But firefighters were able to save the entire area except for a vehicle maintenance shed. The ski lifts were intact, as was the main lodge, where a snow-making machine was spraying water to keep the lodge from burning.
Near the burned maintenance shed, another snow-maker was hosing down a propane tank.
Just east of the resort, the Lodge at Adventure Mountain was still standing as well.
Abbey Pearson, who lives in a small A-frame house on a meadow near Sierra-at-Tahoe, said she learned early Monday that her home was undamaged.
“As of today,” she added. “I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight.” She said she’s been told that many of the cabins nearby have been destroyed; some of them had been in the same families for generations.
Pearson evacuated to a friend’s house in South Lake Tahoe and was awaiting word on whether she would have to flee again.
Pearson’s property, at around 6,800 feet of elevation just south of 50 at the turnoff for Sierra-at-Tahoe, is a historic spot. It’s been a cattle ranch and stagecoach stop. It’s also the spot where, every month during winter, the state Department of Water Resources holds its survey to gauge the depth of the Sierra snowpack. In April 2015, during the worst of the last drought, then-Gov. Jerry Brown famously walked through the barren field and ordered mandatory cutbacks in water consumption.
Pearson’s mom, Carol, lived on the property until it was destroyed by fire two years ago.