Residents are returning to the Lake Tahoe resort area more than a week after evacuation orders spurred by the Caldor Fire, though full containment is still weeks away. More than 53,000 people had been ordered to evacuate by Sept. 1. At that time, officials expected full containment by Wednesday. But the 15th-largest fire in state history was just 50% contained as of Tuesday evening, per Capital Public Radio. Full containment is now expected on Sept. 27. The fire has burned more than 216,000 acres of land and destroyed 776 single residences, 18 commercial properties, and 200 other minor structures. Another 77 structures have been damaged. However, the Lake Tahoe area was mostly left unscathed.
Many residents have returned home in recent days as evacuation orders lifted, including for the 22,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe on Sunday. All but 9,500 residents were able to return home as of Tuesday morning, per the Monterery Herald, even though there was enough smoke to irritate the eyes and reports of bears roaming the streets. Multiple burglaries reported during the evacuation period were actually "bear break-ins," KTVU reports. "We're happy the firefighters saved our home," a woman tells the Washington Post after spending a week with her husband and toddler at a hotel in Stateline, Nev. "I'm thankful to be back. I'm thankful to be alive. I'm thankful my house is still standing," adds a man who found shelter in Reno.
Officials warn, however, that more fire activity is expected in the coming days and months. "We're right smack in the middle of wildfire peak season," Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter tells the Herald, adding "we are on par" to match the devastation of the 2020 season. More than 15,000 firefighters are battling 14 major wildfires across the state. The Dixie Fire in Northern California, which has burned more than 917,000 acres, "is on its way to becoming the largest wildfire in the state's history" and was only 59% contained as of Tuesday, per CNN. Porter adds weather models for September through December aren't promising, per Capital Public Radio. "The entire state shows drier, more wind events and large fire activity to continue." (Read more California wildfires stories.)