SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif .– (AP) – The massive wildfire near the Lake Tahoe resort area was half contained on Tuesday, the chief of the California firefighting agency saying crews were largely successful keep flames away from populated areas.
“We were able to gather these fires around and outside of major community corridors,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Thom Porter.
This includes the town of South Lake Tahoe and nearby Meyers which were threatened by the Caldor fire as it turned east, as well as the nearby communities of Pollock Pines and Sly Park, near the place where the fire started three and a half weeks ago.
“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in all cases,” Porter said at a briefing. “But overall, we’ve been able to do a great job protecting lives and property.”
Nearly 1,000 structures were destroyed in the fire near Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border, including 776 homes. Many were in the community of Grizzly Flats near where the fire started and were able to burn before authorities could divert significant resources from other fires burning California.
Others include the Dixie Fire, the second largest in the state’s history, which also burned down rural and wooded communities that firefighters were unable to protect.
The perimeter of the fire, located further north in the Sierra Nevada, reached 1,300 kilometers, said Tony Scardina, US Forest Service deputy regional forester for California.
It’s the equivalent of “driving I-5 from the southern California border to the northern California border,” he said of the main north-south highway.
The Dixie Fire was 59% content. It started in mid-July and destroyed more than 1,200 buildings, including 688 houses.
Hot, dry and windy conditions in northern California this week could spread existing or new fires, Scardina warned.
About 3,125 square miles (8,094 square kilometers) have burned so far this year, similar to the record fire season of 2020, Porter said.
“We are on par with what we were last year. It’s sobering, and it’s the new reality, ”said the Cal Fire Chief.
California has seen increasingly large and deadly wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the western United States much hotter and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists said weather conditions will continue to be more extreme and forest fires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.
Statewide shows the potential for extreme fire danger over the next three months, Porter said.
“We are in the middle of the peak forest fire season,” he said. “And so everyone must remain vigilant. “
The Caldor fire increased by a few hundred acres in 24 hours, to just over 338 square miles (875 square kilometers), and containment lines were holding up well, officials said at a briefing .
“We had very few problems with the line on fire,” said Tim Ernst, operations section chief at Cal Fire.
Sections of the perimeter were cause for concern, but over much of the blaze the work turned into cleaning up, pulling miles of fire hose out of the forest and chopping down dangerously weakened trees.
The blaze, which at times took on explosive proportions, was sufficiently contained to allow authorities to lift mandatory evacuation orders for the 22,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe on Sunday.
But Ryan Okashima, the assistant commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, urged residents to be careful both heeding evacuation warnings and returning home.
“Please be patient, take your time as you try to get home,” he said. “Please don’t go home until you’ve been told it’s clear to go to your home. “
The exchange of fire was so intense that the eight available firefighting planes from the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve entered service on Sunday for the first time since 2012, the Air National Guard said. Major General David Baldwin, who heads the California National Guard.
But as conditions improve, Baldwin said a few hundred soldiers, four Guard helicopters and other equipment have been removed.
The Caldor Fire erupted on August 14 on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and ravaged the community of Grizzly Flats as it roared over the ridge of the mountain range to the east, burning more than houses and cabins en route until he was prevented from reaching the south shore of Lake Tahoe.
The blaze was “one of the most impactful events we’ve ever seen here,” said Mike Blankenheim, head of Cal Fire’s Amador-El Dorado unit.
“The road back to some sense of normalcy for us will no doubt be long and will undoubtedly involve challenges, but thanks to the efforts of this group here… this path has a solid foothold and we have a direction. to be continued now, ”Blankenheim told the fire department.
As of Tuesday, more than 15,500 people were working on 14 large active wildfires in California.
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