SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Cal Fire crews are continuing a day and night battle to keep the Caldor Fire from burning into the the Lake Tahoe Basin. For the first time in Northern California, that fight is taking place above the fray and at night.
Cal Fire Public Information Officer David Clark said for the past two nights, Chinook type-1 helicopters have been brought up from Southern California. Pilots descend to 100-feet above the flames and drop 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant during each run.
"They use a night vision goggle," said Clark. "They can use their night vision capabilities to fly and make targets of opportunity on suppression activities and help suppress the fire."
The Caldor Fire grew again overnight. By Wednesday evening, it stands at over 126,000 acres. Crews have managed only 12% containment as it inches its way toward the Lake Tahoe Basin.
"Large fires, when they do get to this size, are notoriously hard to make a containment line around. Especially under these drought conditions that we’re seeing," said Dr. Amanda Stasiewicz, a wildlife management & policy expert at San Jose State University.
Those conditions, forecast to improve slightly over the next week, are still coupled with 13 major wildfires state-wide.
The result in the Lake Tahoe area is hazy air, and masks are a must-have.
"You’re having pizza, and there’s ashes landing in your pizza," said a visitor from New York.
Nine federal parks have been closed, and area businesses are also taking a hit, as tourist towns have become ghost towns.
"It’s impacted us tremendously. We’re discussing everyday, ‘Do we stay open? Do we close?,’" asked one business owner.
Meanwhile, firefighters continue efforts to keep the fire from spreading beyond Highway 50, and into more populated areas.
"It’s going to create more challenging spaces for firefighters to actively suppress the fire. Which is why we’re seeing more air support coming in here," said Dr. Stasiewicz.
Wednesday afternoon, Cal Fire officials said they’re moving the night helicopter operations from the Caldor Fire, to the French Fire because of an immediate threat to structures there.