Fire officials ordered more evacuations around the Tahoe Basin as a two-week-old blaze encroached on the mountain towns surrounding glimmering Lake Tahoe. By nightfall, the AP reports that all residents on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin were warned to evacuate, after fire officials had stressed for days that protecting the area was their top priority. “Today’s been a rough day and there’s no bones about it,” Jeff Marsoleis, supervisor for El Dorado National Forest, said Sunday evening. A few days ago, he thought crews could halt the Caldor Fire's eastern progress, but “today it let loose.” Flames churned through mountains just a few miles southwest of the Tahoe Basin, where thick smoke sent tourists packing at a time when vacations would usually be in full swing ahead of Labor Day.
“We’ve been seeing about a half-mile of movement on the fire’s perimeter each day for the last couple of weeks, and today, this has already moved at 2.5 miles on us,” said Cal Fire Division Chief Erich Schwab. The forecast did not offer optimism: triple-digit temperatures expected to last several days. A red flag warning for critical fire conditions was issued for Monday and Tuesday across the Northern Sierra. The blaze that broke out August 14 was 19% contained after burning nearly 245 square miles—an area larger than Chicago. More than 600 structures have been destroyed and at least 18,000 more were under threat. The Caldor Fire has proved so difficult to fight that fire managers pushed back the projected date for full containment from early this week to Sept. 8. But even that was tenuous. Elsewhere in California's fire season:
- In Southern California, part of Interstate 15 closed Sunday after winds pushed a new blaze, dubbed the Railroad Fire, across the Cajon Pass northeast of Los Angeles.
- Further south, evacuation orders were still in place for remote communities after a wildfire broke out and spread quickly through the Cleveland National Forest on Saturday. A firefighter received minor injuries and two structures were destroyed in the 2.3-square-mile Chaparral Fire burning along the border of San Diego and Riverside counties. It was 10% contained Sunday.
- Meanwhile, California’s Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history at 1,193 square miles, was 48% contained in the Sierra-Cascades region about 65 miles north of the Caldor Fire. Nearly 700 homes were among almost 1,300 buildings that have been destroyed since it began in early July.
- Containment increased to 22% on the 12-day-old French Fire, which covered more than 38 square miles in the southern Sierra Nevada. Crews protected forest homes on Lake Isabella, a popular recreation area near Bakersfield.
- More than a dozen large fires are being fought by more than 15,200 firefighters across California, which is seeking major federal help. Flames have destroyed around 2,000 structures and forced thousands to evacuate while blanketing large swaths of the West in smoke.
(More California wildfires