Lake Tahoe braces for emergency as wildfire looms

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

The Caldor blaze has proven so difficult to fight that fire officials this week pushed back the scheduled date for full containment from early next week to September 8. But even that estimate was tenuous.

“I think this is going to be evaluated on a day-to-day basis,” said Keith Wade, spokesperson for the incident management team.

A northern California police officer who was on his way to help with the blaze died of his injuries Thursday, officials said on Friday.

Galt’s police officer Harminder Grewal was seriously injured in a head-on collision that sent him and his partner to hospital on Sunday.

“He made the ultimate sacrifice in… responding to danger. Officer Grewal was proud to serve his community and his work ethic was contagious to all who worked with him, ”the department said in a statement.

Grewal, 27, was a 2.5-year veteran who was the department’s ‘Officer of the Year’ in 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement honoring him and ordering the Capitol flags in half Staff.

Grewal was a member of the honor guard and had recently been selected to be a motorcycling officer, Newsom said. He said Grewal’s partner was recovering from his serious injuries. The driver who crossed their lane also died.

Burning since August 14 in the Sierra Nevada, the Caldor fire burned nearly 144,000 acres, or 225 square miles (583 square kilometers), and remained only 12 percent contained on Friday.

The flames swept through the mountains just southwest of the Tahoe Basin, home to thousands of people and a playground for millions of tourists who visit the Alpine Lake during the warmer months, ski at the many resorts in winter and play in its casinos all year round. The area is blanketed in smoke at a time when summer vacation is expected to be in full swing.

The eastern boundary of the fire was about seven or eight miles from the town of South Lake Tahoe, said Robert Baird, director of fire management and aviation at the US Forest Service.

“This area has been the center of intense resources and concerns for all of us,” he said.

Primary and secondary lines of fire cut by bulldozers, manual crews and burnout operations were in place to try and catch the fire before it reached South Lake Tahoe, he said.

Planning for the evacuation was being done as a precautionary measure, but there had been no evacuation on Friday afternoon, he said.

Communities on the west side of the fire were also concerned.

“When you look at the Caldor fire, there are obviously a number of reasons why this is the highest priority fire in the country and in California. There is community and infrastructure in almost every direction, ”said Anthony Scardina, US Forest Service deputy regional forester for the Southwest Pacific region.

“This is why this fire is so complex, because in all directions there are significant risks,” he said, adding that “it is right in the back door of the communities on the west side.”

The Caldor Fire is one of nearly 90 major fires in the United States. Many are in the West, burning drought-dried trees and brush. Climate change has made the region hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather conditions more extreme and forest fires more destructive, scientists say.

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

The Caldor Fire continued to grow, but not as explosively as it did in its early days, when it ravaged the community of Grizzly Flat. Current counts have counted 469 houses and 11 commercial properties destroyed, as well as many smaller structures.

In the Lake Tahoe area, visits began to decline when Highway 50, the main road to the south end, closed and again when a Dierks Bentley concert was canceled, according to Carol Chaplin, president and CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, which promotes tourism to the south.

“Obviously, the air quality started to have a big negative impact at the same time,” she wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “At our visitor center, many of our calls were about concerns about future bookings, but as the fire spread, accommodation has seen a significant drop.”

Chaplin said she suspected occupancy was currently below 30% and businesses were reducing hours and / or days or closing temporarily.

“Our summer season has been incredibly strong and we were looking forward to continuing this trend through the holidays and into the fall,” she said.

South Lake Tahoe City Manager Joe Irvin issued an emergency proclamation on Thursday so the town home to Heavenly Ski Resort can be better prepared if evacuation orders arrive and be reimbursed for related expenses. .

The last time the city declared a forest fire emergency was during the Angora fire in 2007, which destroyed nearly 250 homes in the nearby town of Meyers and was the last major fire in the basin.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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