Caldor Fire: Douglas County issues evacuation warnings; fire 186,568 acres and 15% contained
This story does not require a subscription because it deals with a matter of significant public safety. This story will be updated throughout Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.
Thousands of people rushed to get out of South Lake Tahoe on Monday as the entire tourist resort city came under evacuation orders and wildfire raced toward the large freshwater lake of Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada.
Evacuation warnings issued for the resort city of 22,000 on Sunday turned into orders Monday. Vehicles loaded with bikes and camping gear and hauling boats snaked through thick, brown air that smelled of campfire. Police and other emergency vehicles whizzed by.
“This is a systematic evacuation, one neighborhood at a time," South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Travis Cabral said on social media. “I am asking you as our community to please remain calm.”
The fire destroyed multiple homes Sunday along Highway 50, one of the main routes to the south end of the lake. The fire also roared through the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, destroying some buildings but leaving the main buildings at the base intact.
This is a breaking news story and is being updated throughout the day, August 30, 2021. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Update 8:15 p.m.: Douglas County issues evacuation warnings
Douglas County asked residents near South Lake Tahoe to prepare for potential evacuations. The county said that warning could soon turn into an order.
The communities affected are:
- Upper Kingsbury (South)
- Upper Kingsbury (North)
- Central Kingsbury
- Lower Kingsbury
- Round Hill region and roads including Lower Elks Point
- Lake Village
- Lower Olivers, Kahle Drive region and roads
Update 7:12 p.m.: Fire burning near Echo Summ
The fire jumped Highway 89 late Monday and is now moving north on a ridge into Meyers in South Lake Tahoe, a USA TODAY Network reporter observed.
Crews are expected to begin structure protection on the homes near the Christmas Valley community.
— David Rodriguez Munoz, USA TODAY Network
Update 4:01 p.m.: Casinos shut down gaming in South Lake Tahoe
The Nevada Gaming Control Board has received notification that some resorts in South Lake Tahoe have begun to shut down certain portions of their gaming operations in response to the Caldor Fire.
"We would presume that this could escalate over the coming hours," Nevada Gaming Control Board Analyst Michael Lawton said in an email.
The four major casinos in the area include Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harvey’s, Hard Rock Lake Tahoe and Montbleu Casino Resort.
Update 3:47 p.m.: Douglas County says no evacuations, yet
People who live on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe are not under any evacuation warnings or order, but county officials did caution residents to remain vigilant.
"Residents in the Tahoe Basin should remain aware, and be thinking about evacuation," said county spokesperson Melissa Blosser. "Many people are choosing to leave the basin causing slow traffic in the areas and on the state route highways."
The evacuation center in Douglas County is now at capacity. A second evacuation center is now open at the Carson City Community Center, 851 E William Street.
Update 2:57 p.m.: Nevada governor declares state of emergency
Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency as the Caldor Fire approaches Stateline, Nev., which borders the city of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
"Today, I declared a state of emergency in Nevada in response to the ongoing Caldor Fire. Thank you to our brave first responders, local government agencies, and nonprofit entities who continue to go above and beyond to assist our communities during these trying times," Sisolak said in his announcement.
Update 2:09 p.m.: NDOT closes routes to South Lake Tahoe
The Nevada Department of Transportation closed westbound U.S. 50 and Kingsbury Grade and southbound State Route 28 on Monday as thousands of people fled South Lake Tahoe on northboard routes.
There is no indication when the roads will open as the Caldor Fire rages near the Lake Tahoe basin.
Update 12:25 p.m.: Northbound Highway 50 is packed as people flee South Lake Tahoe
Northbound Highway 50 was packed with people fleeing the Caldor Fire on Monday as evacuation orders went into effect for all of South Lake Tahoe.
Google Maps shows the slow down easing after the turnoff to Kingsbury Grade.
Meanwhile, police continued to evacuate people throughout South Lake Tahoe on Monday, blaring sirens and using loudspeakers telling people to leave.
Neighborhoods throughout the community of 20,000 people have turned into ghost towns.
Update 11:40 a.m.: Red flag through Wednesday night
The National Weather Service is forecasting a red flag warning for the Sierra Nevada, including the Lake Tahoe area, starting today through Wednesday night.
Southwest wind gusts of up to 35 mph will be paired with very low humidity, which could push the Caldor Fire into the Lake Tahoe basin.
Update 11:15 a.m.: Evacuations extend to Heavenly, Stateline
An immediate evacuation order has been issued for areas around Heavenly and Stateline.
The order extends east of Pioneer Trail between Larch and Al Tahoe, including the area of Heavenly Ski Resort, out to the Alpine County line and the Nevada state line on the East.
In Stateline, the order extends east of Ski run on the lake side of Pioneer Trail and also both sides of Pioneer Trail between Larch and the Nevada state line.
Update 10:15 a.m.: Cal Fire expands evacuation orders, Barton Hospital closes
Immediate evacuation orders have been extended further into the Lake Tahoe Basin and now include west shore communities up through Meeks Bay.
South Lake Tahoe's main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, proactively evacuated 36 patients needing skilled nursing and 16 in acute care beds Sunday, sending them to regional facilities far from the fire, public information officer Mindi Befu said. The rest of the hospital was evacuating following Monday's expanded orders.
The hospital said in a tweet the emergency room is now located at the Lake Tahoe Surgery Center. The hospital's urgent care facility in Stateline will remain open with limited services.
Orders have been issued for:
Tahoe Keys: All residences within the Tahoe Keys community and all residences accessed from the streets connected to Tahoe Keys Blvd., staying east of 3rd Street.
Tahoe Island: East of Highway 50/ Highway 89 at the at the Lake Tahoe Blvd and Highway 89 Highway 50 intersection. This includes the area of Barton Hospital and the area of Winnemucca to the “Y.” Also north of Highway 50 west of Tahoe Keys Blvd following along the north side of Highway 89 through the end of town prior to Pope Beach.
A1 Tahoe: All residences off of Lakeview which is west of Highway 50 North of Blue Lakes Road and east of Tahoe Keys Neighborhood.
Sierra Tract: All residences on both sides of Highway 50 for the streets connected to O’Malley, Lodi, Silver Dollar and Rubicon Trail
Bijou: The residences between Al Tahoe on the east side of Johnson Blvd to include the streets of Treehaven and Fremont and extending to the east in to all residences west of Ski Run and east of Pioneer Trail.
Residents are being asked to evacuate eastbound on Highway 50 toward Nevada.
Evacuation shelters are located Truckee Veterans Hall, 10214 High St., Truckee, Calif. and Douglas County Community Center, 1329 Waterloo Lane, Gardnerville, Nev.
All previous evacuation orders and warnings remain in effect.
6 a.m.: Evacuations begin in South Lake Tahoe
Police began evacuating residents in the South Lake Tahoe area early Monday morning as the Caldor Fire raged closer to the Lake Tahoe basin along Echo Summit.
With sirens blaring throughout the community, news footage captured by Sacramento's ABC10 showed police telling residents they should leave now after an evacuation warning was issued late Sunday.
All residents on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin were warned to evacuate the region, after fire officials had stressed for days that protecting the area was their top firefighting priority.
The latest fire map shared by the National Weather Service Monday morning showed heat signatures reaching the south portion of Echo Lake.
Caldor Fire 'let loose' on Sunday
“Today’s been a rough day and there’s no bones about it,” Jeff Marsoleis, forest 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 summer vacations would usually be in full swing ahead of the Labor Day weekend.
“To put it in perspective, 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, with no sign that it’s starting to slow down,” said Cal Fire Division Chief Erich Schwab.
Early Monday, an Alert Wildfire camera at Sierra at Tahoe captured nearby flames. It's unclear if the ski resort south of Highway 50 was damaged.
Some areas of the Northern California terrain are so rugged that crews had to carry fire hoses by hand from Highway 50 as they sought to douse spot fires caused by erratic winds.
The forecast did not offer optimism: triple-digit temperatures were possible and the extreme heat was 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 estimate was tenuous.
Here is a live map of the current evacuation orders and warnings: