SOUTH, Calif. — A massive firefighting force gathered Tuesday to defend that forced the evacuation of California communities on the south end of the alpine resort and put others across the state line in Nevada on notice to be ready to flee.
The streets of the popular vacation haven, generally filled with thousands of summer tourists, were all but deserted after the rapid growth of the Caldor Fire forced a mass evacuation on Monday and triggered hours of gridlocked traffic.
“It’s more out of control than I thought,” evacuee Glen Naasz said of the fire that had been pushed by strong winds across two significant highways, burning mountain cabins as it swept down slopes into the Tahoe Basin by late Monday.
More firefighters arrived just after dark Monday, and many were dispatched to protect homes in the Christmas Valley area, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from South.
Thick smoke prevented air firefighting operations periodically. But since then, 23 helicopters and three air tankers of gallons of water and retardant on the fire, fire spokesman Dominic Polito said.
The Nationalwarned of critical fire weather conditions through Wednesday due to strong gusts, low humidity, and extremely dry fuels.
Ken Breslin was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic more petite than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from his home in the city of 22,000, with only a quarter tank of gas in his Ford Escape. His son begged him to leave Sunday night, but he shrugged him off, confident that it would be later in the week if an evacuation order came.
“Before, it was, ‘No worries … it’s not going to crest. It’s not going to come down the hill. There are 3,500 firefighters, all those bulldozers, and all the air support,'” he said. “Until this morning, I didn’t think there was a chance it couldinto this area. Now it’s genuine.”
As flames advanced toward South, residents just over the state line in Nevada faced evacuation warnings. Monday’s evacuation orders came a day after communities several miles south of the lake were abruptly ordered to leave as the nearby. South main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, evacuated dozens of patients. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office transferred inmates to a neighboring jail.
“There isthat we have never seen before. The critical thing for the public to know is to evacuate early,” said Chief Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “For the rest of you in California: Every acre can and will burn someday in this state.”
The threat of fire is so widespread that the U.S. Forest Servicethat all national forests in California would be closed until Sept. 17. “We do not take this decision lightly, but this is the best choice for public safety,” Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlein said.
More than 15,000 firefighters were battling dozens of California blazes, including crews from Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and, said Mark Ghilarducci, California’s Office of Emergency Services. About 250 active-duty soldiers were being trained in by hand.
He said crews from Louisiana had to return to that state because of. Porter noted that only twice in California history have blazes burned from one side of the Sierra Nevada to the other this , with the Caldor and Dixie fires.
The Dixie, the second-largest wildfire in state history at 1,215 square miles (3,147 square kilometers), burned about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the Lake Tahoe-area blaze. It prompted newand warnings Monday.
Thearea is usually a year-round recreational paradise offering beaches, water sports, hiking, ski resorts, and golfing. South bustles with outdoor activities and casinos bordering Stateline, Nevada.
Mayor Tamara Wallace thought the Caldor Fire would. Fires in the past did not .
“It’sanother example of how wildfires have changed over the years,” Wallace said as she gathered treasured items and prepared to leave.
The last two wildfires that ripped through populated areas near Tahoe were the Angora Fire, which destroyed more than 200 homes in 2007, and the Gondola Fire in 2002 ignited near a chairlift at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
Since then, dead trees have accumulated, and Wallace said the region has coped with severe droughts. Scientistshas made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Traffic out of South Lake Tahoe crawled Monday, but Wallace said the.
Not everyone agreed. The California Highway Patrol added “quite a bit of additional personnel” to help guide a chaotic evacuation from South. As massive traffic jams slowed the evacuation of vehicles, CHP Assistant Commissioner Ryan Nakashima said.
TheSunday along Highway 50, one of the main routes to the lake’s south end. It also roared through the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, demolishing some buildings but . Crews used snow-making machines to douse the ground.
Cabins burned near the unincorporated community of Echo Lake, where Tom Fashinell has operated Echo Chalet with his wife since 1984. The summer-only resort offers cabin rentals but was ordered to close early for the.
Fashinell said he was glued to the local TV news. “We’re watching to see whether the building survives,” he said. The Caldor Fire has scorched nearly 300 square miles (777 square kilometers) since breaking out on Aug. 14. After the weekend’s fierce burning, containment dropped from 19% to 16%.
Over 600 structures have been destroyed, and at least 33,000 more were threatened. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Monday, citing the high risk that California would burn across the state line.
Diane Kinney, who has lived in South Lake Tahoe since the 1970s, said this was the firsther neighborhood was ordered to evacuate. She and her husband packed up keepsakes, jewelry, and insurance papers shortly afternoon. They left behind their 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle.
“There are advantages of being in the mountains with these beautiful pine trees,” she said. “But we have to get out now.”
Har reported from. Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco; Noah Berger in South Lake Tahoe; Antczak in Los Angeles; and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.