Favorable weather aids crews battling Caldor Fire; containment inches up
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Cal Fire officials are urging people to avoid the Lake Tahoe Area during the Labor Day Weekend as the Caldor Fire continues to burn in the South Lake Tahoe area three weeks after it began.
As of Saturday afternoon, the fire had burned 213,270 acres with 37% containment. More than 31,900 structures remain threatened. Some 4,660 firefighters and firefighting air tankers are working to get an upper hand as the lighter winds give them an opportunity to cut fire breaks in preparation for any shifts in the wind.
The fire has left painful scars of burnt trees and homes in its wake.
At a briefing Friday evening, Cal Fire officials said they plan to aggressively fight flames through the weekend near Kirkwood...To preserve the ski resort.
"We've got hose lays in place, multiple engines. Hopefully in 24-48 that threat to Kirkwood will be diminished," said Beale Monday, an Operations Chief with the U.S. Forest Service's National Incident Management Organization (NIMO).
Firefighters say one problem is that fire is continuing to hop from tree to tree.
"We've got crews spread out to make sure there's no threat to the fire line," said Monday.
More evacuees are being allowed to go back to their homes, but Cal Fire warns their fire equipment and hoses are still in residential areas, utilities are being restored, and there are concerns that if they reopen neighborhoods too quickly, the water supplies which have been used for firefighting will be diminished.
"Most of us were evacuated as well so we can empathize with your situation," said Clive Savacool, Chief of South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue, assuring residents they were working hard to allow evacuees to return home safely.
From a helicopter Friday, you could see house after house flattened by fire to ash and rubble.
Driving on the roads it was painfully clear, the heartbreak awaiting families returning to Grizzly Flats and other burnt neighborhoods.
"We sort of felt we would be coming back to our home, I think just as the rest of our neighbors did," said Pat Olson over the phone. She says her house is gone, one of some 683 residences CAL FIRE said have been destroyed.
Cal Fire damage inspectors have managed to inspect 75% of structures in the area so far.
"I know everyone is trying to keep everyone safe. but as far as emotionally, it is so hard," said Olson.
Also hard, is the economic impact on South Lake Tahoe's tourism businesses and restaurants, normally bustling on the holiday weekend.
"With the city of South Lake Tahoe, within a 4-week period they're anticipating about a $4.2 million dollar hit on tax revenue," said Carol Chaplin, President & CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
Overall, the Tahoe Visitors Authority says the regional economy is expected to lose more than $100 million from the fire.
Cal fire officials said Friday it's still too early to know when they'll be able to reopen South Lake Tahoe.
One area that plans to be open for the Labor Day weekend is the popular Apple Hill farms area, between Placerville and Pollock Pines.
About one third of the farmers were evacuated, but the area now is not under evacuation orders.
Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.