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Lake Tahoe officials confident in Caldor’s fire preparedness

Evacuation centers are at full capacity. Large portions of Highway 50 are closed. Thousands of residents have fled their homes.

But those on the front line of the raging Caldor blaze insist they are prepared for what could happen in the days to come – even if the wind-blown blaze heads towards the lake basin. Tahoe.

“We have prepared for this exchange of gunfire in this area,” said Captain Brian Newman of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We have planned and prepared, and we have ordered resources to deal with the impact of the fire that hit Lake Tahoe.”

These plans include hundreds of California National Guard soldiers and U.S. Army personnel who have been deployed to fight the blaze. More than 3,000 firefighters from Cal Fire, the US Forest Service and other groups have already been assigned to the blaze.

Forest Service officials also announced Monday the closure of all of California’s national forests to protect firefighters and prevent further conflagrations. Closures begin at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and end at the same time on September 17.

Although there are more than a dozen large wildfires in the state, Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said last week that the Caldor blaze was the top priority in combating the wildfires. fires in the country.

“It’s so important,” he said. “He’s knocking on the door to the Lake Tahoe basin. “

The blaze had reached more than 190,000 acres by Tuesday, with nearly 500 structures burned down and 33,000 threatened. It was 16% content.

Strong winds helped fan the flames, with Newman reporting an “active fire front” near Echo Summit, not far from where the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort was said to have been ablaze.

The winds also sent embers into the Tahoe Basin, and by Monday evening the fire had already reached Meyers and Christmas Valley, Newman said.

Cal Fire spokesman Chris Anthony said federal, state and local fire and police departments “have been working diligently to prepare Tahoe for this exact scenario” since the 2007 Angora fire – a another wind-blown forest fire in El Dorado County that triggered evacuations and destroyed more than 200 homes.

“We knew it could happen and we spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours educating the public, planning evacuations, community meetings, defensible space inspections, expedition programs. , household awareness, fuel reduction projects, prescribed burning and forest health. projects, ”he said.

Still, the behavior of the Caldor fire was anything but predictable. Just days ago, crews believed they had turned a corner on the blaze – only to come up against strong winds and extreme drought that forced those gains to disappear.

Porter said the Caldor Fire and the nearby Dixie Fire were the first to burn from one side of the Sierra to the other.

“Twice in our history and they’re both happening this month,” Porter said. “So we have to be really aware that there are fires in California that we’ve never seen before.”

Crystal Kolden, fire specialist at UC Merced, noted that an “urban conflagration” in the South Lake Tahoe area would move faster, burn more and be much more difficult to fight than a forest fire, because houses and other structures would provide additional fuel and produce “huge embers.”

“You have that potential for it to really start jumping from building to building, and it’s just a completely different beast and they can’t fight it,” she said.

Kolden said the likelihood of the fire spreading to Tahoe was “rather inevitable” as the crews were essentially shifting into triage mode.

She noted that heavy smoke from the blaze could make flight operations difficult and that there are thousands of structures in the lake area that could potentially need to be defended.

“I really hope I’m wrong about that, and they’re lucky with the weather,” she said.

“But at the moment the weather doesn’t seem to really cooperate, and this fire has so much energy that it will be really hard to try and control it under some of the most difficult conditions you can imagine.”