Washington Fire near Lake Tahoe now up to 16,544 acres (updated) | SierraSun.com

Washington Fire near Lake Tahoe now up to 16,544 acres (updated)

Staff report

11 a.m. Tuesday, June 23, UPDATE: The fire has grown to 16,544 acres as of Tuesday morning, officials said in an incident update.

Further, the containment number of 10 percent has been reduced to 0 percent, officials said, due to winds experienced in the area and unsafe conditions for firefighters in the early stages of the fire.

Several campgrounds along Highway 4 to the north end of Markleeville have been evacuated. In addition, Highways 4 and 89 in the Monitor Pass area are closed.

As a precaution, Markleeville residences have been advised to prepare for an evacuation if the need arises, however, no mandatory evacuations are in effect for Markleeville at this time.

Original 8 a.m. story below:

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The nearly 15,000-acre Washington Fire continued to push toward Markleeville Tuesday morning as it burned west, both north and south of the historic Alpine County seat.

Residents watched the fire burn into the night on Monday, as gusty winds forced firefighters to retreat from any estimate of containment.

As of Tuesday morning, the Washington Fire cost $1 million to fight. Most of that went to the 10 tankers and eight helicopters flying air support for the 500 firefighters battling the blaze by hand on the ground.

The fire is believed to have been started by a prior lightning strike near the Washington mine at the base of Silver Peak, about 45 miles south of Carson City.

It was first reported 7 p.m. June 19. It grew from 75 acres on Saturday afternoon to nearly 15,000 acres on Monday night.

"The extreme fire activity being witnessed with the Washington Fire is primarily due to strong erratic winds and severe drought conditions," officials said in an incident update. "These two variables also played a role in firefighting efforts for both air and ground support."

It had grown to 14,942 acres as of late Monday.

Cooler temperatures, higher humidity and decreased winds on Monday night caused the fire to lie down a bit as smoke began to settle in Carson Valley.

Officials advise people with heart or lung disease to avoid all physical activity outdoors. Others should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outside.

As of Tuesday, smoke was not forecast to filter into the Lake Tahoe Basin, although that may change pending unpredictable weather shifts.