SOUTH, Calif. — The massive Lake Tahoe resort communities has calmed significantly and grown at the lowest rate in two weeks. Still, commanders said that firefighters must stay engaged and take advantage of good weather while it lasts. The Caldor Fire remained only a few miles from South , which was emptied of 22,000 residents days ago, along with casinos and shops across the state line in Nevada. Still, no significant fire activity occurred there on Thursday, officials said.
“I’ll sum everything up on the incident with the words cautiously optimistic, and that’s as the result of a lot ofthat you’ve put in now in over two weeks of being here,” Tim Ernst, an operations section chief, told firefighters. The nearly 333-square-mile (862-square-kilometer) fire was not making any significant advances and was not challenging containment lines in long sections of its perimeter, but Ernst said “the risk is still out there” with some areas that .
The fire had been driven northeast on a course leading to South Lake Tahoe for days by southwestern winds, but that pattern ended this, and containment of the blaze increased to 29%.
“Very positive trends regarding weather, said Dean Gould, a U.S. Forest Service administrator. “That’s huge for us. Let’s take full advantage of it while we have this window.”
Gould said the Caldor Fire’s growth rate had declined for fourand that its growth from Thursday to Friday morning was just 2,350 acres (3.6 square miles or 9.32 square kilometers).
“The last time it grew thatwas 14 days ago,” Gould said. “Things are heading in the right direction for us.”
Amid the positive, incident meteorologist Jim Dudley warned that the air mass in the Sierra Nevada drains downslope every night and then sloshes upslope during the day and that the region’s terrain of ridges and deep canyons can create winds that go in “squirrely directions.”
“Just because we don’t havewind conditions across the fire, the wind threat is still there, and it’s all localized,” he warned.
The fire — which began Aug. 14, was named after thethrough densely forested, craggy areas — was still considered a threat to more than 30,000 homes, businesses, and other buildings ranging from cabins to ski resorts.
But there was optimism and progress as winds eased on theflank. On the fire’s northeastern side, firefighters with bulldozers and shovels steadily hacked out fire lines. They burned away vegetation to in the flames before they reached Lake Tahoe — despite gusty ridgetop winds.
“In the valleys, we’re doing plenty of work,”Marco Rodriguez said. “The crews are working, and they’re doing controlled fires … to try to make those containment lines a stronger.”
Residents were forced to flee South Lake Tahoe earlier this, and people across the state line in Douglas County, Nevada remained evacuated.
The resort can easily accommodate 100,000 people on a busy weekend, but it was eerily empty on Thursday, just before the Labor.
Yet after days of flames threatening to engulf the resort at any moment, any respite was welcome. “I feel like we are truly the luckiest community in the world right now. I’m so thrilled,” said Mayor Tamara Wallace, who evacuated to Truckee, California.
“It’s finally a chance to take a breath,” said Clive Savacool, chief of SouthRescue. “It’s a breath full of smoke. Nonetheless, I think we’re all breathing a little bit easier and feel like we’re making some progress.”
Russ Crupi, who two days ago was arranging sprinklers around his mobile home park in Southline, had turned off the water for now, feeling confident his neighborhood was no longer under threat. The nearby mountains, cloaked in smoke for most of the week, had become visible.
“I’m just happy they stopped it. It looked close,” he said. Farther west, evacuationin several areas of El Dorado County. Gould said the number of evacuees went down by 5,500 in one day.
Fire officials said that Friday’s, with a warming trend through the weekend as high pressure builds over the West.
Over 15,000 firefighters were battling dozens ofthat destroyed at least 1,500 homes. The Dixie Fire was about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the Caldor Fire. It is the second-largest wildfire in state history at about 1,350 square miles (3,496 square kilometers) and is 55% contained.
California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years ashas made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said the more frequent, destructive, and unpredictable. No deaths have been sea.
Har reported from. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places . Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.