‘Perfect recipe for a major fire like this’: Cal Fire chief on massive Caldor Fire burning in California, US
Fire fighters in California made significant progress against the Caldor Fire over the weekend, allowing for some evacuation orders in the Lake Tahoe region to be downgraded. But as residents there began to breathe a sigh of relief, three new fires ignited in the state Sunday, according to Cal Fire. Evacuation orders for the city of South Lake Tahoe were downgraded to evacuation warnings, nearly a week after thousands in the resort town clogged roadways when officials told them get out because flames were racing into the area. Other parts of El Dorado County saw their evacuation orders downgraded to a warning Saturday while other warnings were lifted, according to Cal Fire. The Caldor Fire has destroyed more than 900 structures since it began, including homes, business and other buildings, Cal Fire said. More than 27 000 structures are threatened.
The areas of Fallen Leaf Lake, Christmas Valley, Meyers and North Upper Truckee remain under an evacuation order.
Across the state border in Nevada, mandatory evacuations in Douglas County were downgraded to precautionary evacuations Saturday, according to an announcement on the county's website, opening the door for some residents there to return home.
As of Monday morning, the Caldor Fire had consumed 216 358 acres near the California-Nevada border. The flames are 44 percent contained about three weeks after it started on 14 August 2021, Cal Fire said.
While still massive, the Caldor Fire's growth slowed over the weekend, adding just 842 acres in a 24-hour period between Friday night and Saturday night, according to CNN's analysis of fire information. That's a far cry from its explosive start, when the fire grew to nearly 100 000 acres in its first week.
High temperatures ahead
Saturday night, fire behaviour in the Caldor Fire's East Zone was "minimal to moderate," Cal Fire said in an update Sunday evening. “There is still much work to be done tying in dozer lines and holding along the south and southeast flank of the fire above Caples Lake. However so far, fire fighters are making good progress," the report said.
As fire fighters measure their progress, they are also keeping an eye on the forecast as another heat wave is shaping up for this week.
Nearly 25 million in California, Nevada and Arizona will experience temperatures up to 20 degrees above average, meaning the region could see 105 to 115 degrees, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. The majority of the heat will impact the desert Southwest. At the same time, a red flag warning is in effect for portions of central Oregon and central northern California on Tuesday, meaning conditions will be optimal for fire to spread, Guy said.
In the meantime, fire officials urged those returning to their homes to do so safely and keep an eye on updates.
"Repopulation consists of complex coordination between, fire, law enforcement, public works and utilities to ensure the safety of residents and fire responders alike," Cal Fire said.
Progress accompanied by new fires
As fire officials recorded progress in the Caldor Fire, three new wildfires popped up in California Sunday. In Amador County, near where the Caldor Fire is burning, the Lawrence Fire exploded to 46 acres, burning grass, brush and timber, Cal Fire said. The fire prompted brief road closures and evacuations as it threatened a handful of structures but fire fighters were able to quickly mitigate the threat. The Lawrence Fire was 60 percent contained Monday.
Farther north in Placer County, the Bridge Fire burned 300 acres with five percent containment as of Monday. Cal Fire noted evacuations are in progress.
In Southern California, the Aruba Fire sparked in San Diego County, burning 100 acres southeast of the community of Rainbow, Cal Fire said. It was 15 percent contained Sunday night.
Overall, California has tallied 7 099 fire incidents in 2021 as the state suffers through a brutal fire season made worse by climate change that is fuelling a gruelling drought and high temperatures.
More than 1,9 million acres have burned in the state this year, according to Cal Fire. A large chunk of that comes from the Dixie Fire, which has scorched 910 495 acres across five counties in Northern California since it began on July 14. It is currently 57 percent contained, Cal Fire said Monday.
Nationally, 81 large wildfires are currently burning across 2,8 million acres, the National Interagency Fire Centre said. Idaho has 20 fires and Montana has 19. Large swaths of the two states were under red flag warnings on Monday, according to the National Weather Service, due to gusty winds and relative low humidity in the region.
Cal Fire spokesman Henry Herrera detailed the multitude of conditions that are fanning the flames of the monster Caldor Fire as it continues to burn across the Sierra Nevada mountain range and threaten the resort city of South Lake Tahoe, California. “Everything has lined up, perfect recipe for a major fire like this,” Herrera said during a Wednesday evening interview on CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith” .
“The topography’s very steep, very rugged terrain, the winds have been strong ... we’ve been having gusts up to 35, 40 miles per hour a the top of the ridge tops. The winds are aligning perfectly with the canyons, which is really pushing the fire at a fast rate of spread.”
Fire fighters are battling to contain the flames as it charges toward the south tip of Lake Tahoe. Herrera, who has been back and forth to the frontlines of the Caldor Fire, explained other contributing factors to the massive fire. They include embers igniting dry vegetation miles ahead of the fire that, in turn, creates new, small “spot fires” which grow and connect to the main fire.
The Caldor Fire burned more than 200 000 acres, which is larger than the entire city of Memphis. It’s also forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate. Herrera told host Shepard Smith that the fire fighters are working to save homes and communities, and are currently focusing on the northeast end of the fire, around Meyers and South Lake Tahoe.
“We’ve been building containment lines to keep the fire from entering those areas,” said Herrera. “We are building contingency lines, areas in the event the fire crosses those containment lines, and so far, we’ve been successful keeping the fire away from the communities.”
Sources: CNBC, CNN