SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Firefighters slowed the march of the Caldor Fire as it approached Lake Tahoe on Saturday, and repelled the flames as point fires burned over Strawberry Lodge along Highway 50, but in response to changing gusty winds that were expected Monday morning to Tuesday.
Choked by dangerous smoking conditions, many locals and tourists had fled the resorts of Lake Tahoe on Saturday, even without evacuation warnings.
A fire station – one step closer a red flag warning – set up for 11 a.m. on Monday by the National Weather Service. While these winds could add to the flames, Cal Fire officials hope multiple sets of man-made fire lines as well as massive granite boulders in the nearby Desolation Wilderness will help save the iconic Lake Tahoe Basin.
“There are many Granite boulders, boulders and cliffs that form a natural barrier between the fire and the Tahoe Basin, “said Henry Herrera, a Cal Fire public information officer, on Saturday. “It’s still several miles from the fire, so we’re doing everything we can to stop the fire well in advance.”
Along with Desolation Wilderness three miles east of Strawberry, two smaller lakes – Echo Lake and Lake Aloha – also form natural firebreaks and provide water for helicopters to dump into the flames.
Containment grew 19 percent on Saturday, up from 12 percent the previous day, “a pretty significant jump for us,” said Cal Fire Cpt. said Keith Wade on Saturday. The fire remained about 10 miles west of the South Lake Tahoe community. Containment is not expected until September 8th.
Light winds on Saturday morning blew enough smoke to make helicopters fly and attack the fire from above. The fire that broke out near Grizzly Flats burned nearly 150,000 acres and destroyed 469 homes.
“Even without wind,” Wade said, “the fire has shown a tendency to grow and move. “
Another day of light wind is expected on Sunday, but gusts of 25-30 miles per hour are expected to start around 11am on Monday and continue through Tuesday.
” We still have a day with pretty much light winds over the fire, and then things change, “said meteorologist Jim Dudley at a Cal Fire press conference on Saturday.
Cal Fire is expecting help from and from crews leaving other flames in the coming days U.S. Army soldiers training next week at a base near Tacoma, Washington, as well as the Caldor fire lines.
On Saturday afternoon, northwest of Strawberry Township, 150 Cal Fire and U.S. forest workers staged the mustard-yellow general goods store where fresh flames began to burn the ridge. U.S. Forest Service Engine Captain Mike Loeffler watched the point fires progress from the middle of the road as trucks navigated around him and said crews were preparing to misfire around the community’s northwest pocket to protect.
“Right now it’s kind of a waiting game,” he said. “We can handle it as the throwing points keep getting deeper.”
At the Red Hut Cafe, a long-time favorite for waffles, pancakes, and hash browns along Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe, Matthew McKnight, 22, said the Customers typically wait 20 minutes for a table on Saturday mornings. The smoke drove them all away.
Looking across the lake, the west coast was gone in smoke, and the ridges loomed over Highway 89, barely visible under an eerie white sky. Hurricane Bay Beach was empty, save for boats bobbing in the haze.
Bars, general stores, and resorts along the two-lane road to South Lake Tahoe seemed deserted – save for a few “Vacancy” signs in front of dark motels – when Cars occasionally turned towards residential streets.
Outside a Raley’s grocery store in South Lake Tahoe, retired firefighter Bill Hindmarsh, 63, of Arlington, Texas, leaned against a silver minivan Friday night while friend Eddie Goodman had water and beer in bottles into the car and wondered what to do with a weekend now botched by the Caldor Fire.
Even the worst smoke it has ever tasted – when fires from the Mexican Copper Canyon region about 10 years ago one bleeding thick haze over Dallas-Forth Worth – is not comparable, said Hindmarsh.
“We should play golf, out on the lake. There’s nothing we can do now, ”he said, waving a Tahoe brochure. “Now it’s just gambling – and that’s getting old.”
Ted Kennedy, 56, plays with his band in Heavenly Village a few nights a week. But after half the band fled town, he put on a pork pie hat on Friday and picked up his guitar by himself for the few people who rushed to their hotels.
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“I’m a renegade, but I’m not stupid,” he said of his stay in Tahoe. “If they say it’s getting serious …” He shrugged. “But it’s still many miles away.”