Update 4:30 p.m.: Angora fire coverage
MEYERS (AP) – Firefighters trying to tame a raging wildfire near Lake Tahoe Tuesday suffered a setback when the blaze jumped a fireline near a densely populated area, forcing a new round of evacuations, authorities said.
Firefighters were working to protect the Tallac Village development outside South Lake Tahoe when the blaze jumped their fireline, prompting the evacuation of the entire subdivision. It was unclear how many homes were subject to the order.
“It’s a fairly populated area,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Tim Evans. “That certainly is not good news for our firefighting efforts here.”
The danger to homes diminished overnight as firefighters got a badly needed advantage on the inferno. But it was still burning throughout the day along rugged, uninhabited slopes and authorities had cautioned that strong winds forecast to arrive Wednesday could fan the flames.
The flare-up is about three miles from where the fire started Sunday near the south end of Lake Tahoe. By Tuesday afternoon, the blaze had consumed more than 2,700 acres and was about 40 percent contained, fire officials said. One minor injury has been reported.
Meanwhile Tuesday, other families whose homes were in the path of the wildfire returned to their property, finding some houses reduced to charred ruins and others largely unscathed, except for the odor of smoke and a blanket of ash.
In the most heavily damaged neighborhoods, firefighters doused pockets of lingering flames. Smoke hung thick over blackened piles of rubble that were once homes to nurses, police officers and teachers.
“I didn’t save hardly anything in the house,” said retired firefighter John Hartzell, who lost his home of 20 years. Along with his wife, adult son and a daughter, he sorted through the rubble in search of any mementos.
“I got out with the clothes on my back, my fire coat and my helmet,” he said.
Elsewhere, a beautiful home stood nearly untouched, even though all the sod in its yard had burned.
“It picks and chooses,” said Lynn Cisl, whose home along the edge of the most damaged area also survived. “It’s sort of like a disease. It’s devastating.”
Investigators determined that the fire began near Seneca Pond, an area popular with runners and teenagers in this resort area along the California-Nevada state line. They also said they were close to identifying its cause. An announcement on that was expected later Tuesday.
Authorities have said they believe the fire was caused by some kind of human activity, but U.S Forest Service officials said there was no indication it was intentionally set.
The forest here was so dry that a discarded cigarette butt or match could easily have ignited the fire, Forest Service spokeswoman Beth Brady said. The area was also dotted with the remnants of illegal campfires, she said.
Experts have said California and the rest of the West are entering what could be a long and dangerous fire season after one of the region’s driest winters on record. They warn that years of logging, development and forest mismanagement have left the Tahoe area particularly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires.
“Lake Tahoe Basin is probably an extreme example, but very similar conditions exist throughout the Sierra Nevada,” Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes said. “It can happen literally anywhere at any moment.”
In Meyers, the charred landscape included manicured driveways leading to metal garage doors that were still standing amid the ruins of destroyed homes.
Hartzell’s sister-in-law, Ruth Orozco, a nurse, also lost her home but was able to escape with her two dogs and one cat.
“I can’t believe it’s all gone,” she said, breaking into tears.
Concerned about looting, dozens of sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers roamed the burned neighborhoods, ensuring that only those who lived in the area were allowed in. Cars lined up to pass through an elaborate checkpoint where each vehicle’s window was marked with white shoe polish to designate the street number of the home it was allowed to visit.
“It was eerie and awkward. You could see the expressions on everyone’s face,” said Lindsey Douglass, 22, after she made her way through the line of more than 30 waiting cars.
Concerns about downed power lines and other hazards forced some homeowners to delay their return until later this week.
Investigators seeking the cause of the Angora fire expect to have an answer as to what started the catastrophic fire in South Lake Tahoe by Wednesday, officials said this afternoon.
Fire officials also expect to reduce the total number of homes lost so far down from 200. The damage assessment team will release the final numbers when the assessments are complete.
Estimates of cost to fight the fire, now resting between $30 million and $50 million, should be released later tonight or Wednesday.
This afternoon, firefighters are racing against time and Mother Nature to provide structure protection in advance of Wednesday’s expected winds. As of 1:30 p.m., the fire remains at 40 percent containment.
Chuck Dickson, lead information officer with Management Team I, said “It’s an interesting thing. When the smoke comes up we can’t get the air efforts we need. When the wind comes up and blows the smoke out the fire becomes more aggressive.”
Dickson is a captain with the Kern County Fire Department.
Wind forecast remains a concern With nearly 2,000 men and women fighting the Angora fire, the U.S. Forest Service says the chief concern today, tonight and tomorrow will be winds that are expected to pick up over the next few days.
A fire weather watch has been issued by the National Weather Service in Reno. Today winds are expected to be between 10 to 15 mph along ridgetops. Tomorrow, the winds are expected to grow stronger. Southwest winds will increase, 20 to 25 mph, with wind gusts to 40 mph in the afternoon, according to the weather service.
“It is a concern and things could change,” said Todd Chaponot, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Fire behavior today remains stable along the 4-mile ridge. There have been no reports of spot fires. It has been two days since a structure burned. Highways 50 and 89 are open today.
Donation Center changes The American Red Cross evacuation station at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center is no longer accepting donations at the center. Donations of non-perishable foods and toiletries only can be taken to Al Tahoe School located at Lyons and Rufus Allen Boulevard or at the Tahoe Daily Tribune, 3079 Harrison Avenue in South Lake Tahoe. At this time, there is no longer a need for adult clothing. People are being asked to not drop off furniture donations at this time.
Skies over South Lake Tahoe have cleared and the air attack of the fire is underway, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
A team of 11 helicopters, 145 engines and two water tenders are battling the blaze with the help of 1,889 firefighters.
Fire behavior is moderate and crews are concentrating on building a line around subdivisions.
Back burning took place through the night along the north and east divisions of the fire.
There will be a coordinated community meeting to assist local residents affected by the Angora fire at 7 tonight at the Lake Tahoe Community College, 1 College Drive, South Lake Tahoe.
BEAR League program tonight canceled A program featuring a lecture on bears presented at the Lake Tahoe branch of the El Dorado County Public Library has been canceled because of the fire. It will be scheduled at a later date.
Officials warn of ‘disaster tourists’
Twice this morning reporters have talked with people who have driven to Lake Tahoe hoping to see the fire.
One man from Jackson, Calif., brought his family in the mini van.
Rex Norman, from the U.S. Forest Service, said he’s not surprised.
“We call them disaster tourists,” he said stressing that the South Lake area has been declared to be in a state of disaster. He asks those other than residents to stay away from the fire area.
“They will interfere with more than just emergency personnel,” he said.
Web sites offer property status Clearinghouse to property owners to check the status of homes can be found at http://www.edso.org and http://www.cityofslt.us or visit the Lake Tahoe Community College administrative offices.
Beginning at 8 a.m. today, residents from Highway 50 to Wintoon with appropriate identification will be allowed to access their property via North Upper Truckee and Highway 50; residents from Wintoon to Sawmill Road should contact the local assistance center for re-entry information.
Weather conditions will be changing today with increasing southwesterly winds and decreasing humidity whichmay not be good news for firefighters, said Simon Smith, co-op weather observer for the National Weather service. On the other hand light wind will help to disperse the smoke which will make for better conditions for airquality and visibilities, Smith said. At 7:25 this morning thick smoke continues to clog much of the basin.
Under sunny skies, temperatures today will be in the upper 70s to near 80 with gusty southwest winds increasing by afternoon to 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 30 mph or higher.
Tonight winds will decrease somewhat and become relatively calm in the basin, however ridge winds will continue to blow but not as strong.
Lows will drop back down into the 40s. There may be some good news on the horizon by next week with lighter winds and even the remote possibility of some precipitation by the 4th of July or perhaps later.
Highways 50, 89 open.
Calm weather conditions have caused a dense amount of smoke over the Lake Tahoe Basin as more than 1,889 irefighters continue to work the Angora Fire. Early reports this morning indicate progress on the fire, which has consumed more than 2,730 acres and has burned at least 178 homes. The fire remains at 40 percent containment.
Some homeowners will be allowed to return to their properties today. The Tahoe Daily Tribune will be following events as they continue this morning. At 6 a.m. briefing this morning it was reported there are 12 helicopters, 145 engines and 54 crews on the fire, said Bridgitt Boysen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
All highway closures have been lifted. This includes Highway 50 and 89. The North Upper Truckee Road area to Winton is open this morning, however roads within the main burn area remain closed.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
The Truckee Town Council has unanimously approved of a pilot program to remove snow on privately maintained paved trails in the area.