SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — With stopping spread of the Caldor Fire becoming increasingly difficult, firefighters have resorted to herding the blaze away from Lake Tahoe homes and towards the Tamarack Fire burn area.
Firefighters and engines lined U.S. Highway 50 Tuesday afternoon in an effort to stop the blaze from jumping the road and escaping into the N. Upper Truckee neighborhood.
Active fire was burning alongside the highway and being suppressed as flames flared in gusty winds. On the other side of the highway dozens of personnel stood by ready to attack any embers or flames that crossed the road.
On Highway 89, firefighters were patrolling the area and protecting structures in Christmas Valley and appeared to be having success. Fire engines lined that highway as crews extinguished burning logs and dry fuels that were stoked by intermittent wind gusts.
The fire has burned up the side of the canyon on the north side of Highway 89 and is headed for Heavenly Mountain Resort, officials said.
“I don’t want one single structure to get damaged or destroyed in Christmas Valley,” said Cal Fire Operation Section Chief Eric Schwab during Tuesday’s evening briefing.
There were some dicey moments Tuesday in Meyers where the fire burned right up to some houses along Apache Avenue and other areas.
Thirty-year retired firefighter Joey Anderson stayed at his home on Apache Avenue as the Caldor Fire pushed its way over Echo Summit on Monday.
“It’s so hard leaving, we raised eight kids here,” Anderson said as garden sprinklers doused his home and the area around it.
A fire chief had come by to check on him, asking how he was holding up. After telling the chief that he was holding out ok, Anderson burst into tears.
“Even in my life’s work, it’s different when it’s close to home,” Anderson said.
A group of Tahoe National Forest firefighters were wrapping up a firing operation behind his home as the flames from the Caldor Fire approached.
“I’m feeling pretty good with this line cut around the house,” Anderson said. “Of course with the winds we just don’t know what could happen.”
Anderson owns a cabin on Echo Summit where Monday’s fire activity was spotting and erratic, though he thinks it survived the fire so far.
“The hardest thing about leaving is knowing I can’t get back here,” Anderson said while the thought of evacuating still weighed heavy on his mind.
Schwab said he toured the Echo Summit area on Tuesday and saw structure damage but couldn’t say how much.
“We did the best we could,” Schwab said.
The fire has grown to 199,632 acres and is 18% contained as of Tuesday evening.
But it continues to grow out of control in the basin. Officials, who said several days ago that there was no way the Caldor Fire would merge with the Tamarack Fire, have changed course and said that is precisely what they are trying to do.
“We’re trying to herd this fire, we can’t control it,” Schwab said. “We don’t have any way to stop the fire so we are resorting to herding the fire away from people and structures. Sometimes that’s all we can do. We are going to try and steer it into the Tamarack Fire. It’s a fresh burn scar and if we get it steered into there, that basically stops the spread and that’s a valid tactic.”
Schwab also said the fire escaped a dozer line north of US 50 and is headed towards Wright’s Lake.
It’s making a substantial run, but we have crews there ready to defend structures,” he said.
The National Weather Service in Reno issued a red flag warning a few days ago that is in effect through Wednesday due to high winds and low humidity, perfect conditions for fire growth.
“I’m optimistic we’ll have a slight improvement on Tuesday,” said Meteorologist Jim Dudley. “I’ll be honest with you, it’s not going to be good, but hopefully a little better.”
Elias Funez is a reporter for The Union, a sister publication of the Tribune.