Thousands of people who fled South Lake Tahoe under threat of wildfire were allowed to return when crews stopped the advance of the flames, but many shops remained dark on Monday and the resort’s normally busy streets remained quiet.
A week ago, the quaint tourist town on the California-Nevada border emptied when authorities issued an evacuation order as the fire approached from the south. Now traffic is running back, but not like the crowds that usually pour in during the summer to enjoy the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe covered in a smoky haze.
Lake Tahoe Community College student Dakota Jones returned to South Lake Tahoe Monday after being evacuated to Carson City, Nevada. He said he was afraid of finding buildings damaged or covered in ash and was pleasantly surprised to find the city of 22,000 largely untouched when he and his roommates, who were moving as the fire approached, hit a U-Haul. drove back to their old apartment full of belongings.
“I honestly believed this place was going to go under,” said Jones. “It was nice to see that I was wrong.”
Evacuation orders for South Lake Tahoe and other areas of the lake were downgraded to warnings Sunday afternoon, and California Highway Patrol officials began removing roadblocks along State Highway 50 from Nevada to the city limits. Authorities warned that residents of the scenic wooded area are not out of the woods yet, with risks ranging from smoky, foul air to bellicose bears.
The threat of the Caldor Fire hasn’t entirely gone yet, but the downgrade to warning meant those who wish could return to their homes in a smoky ghost town rather than a thriving Labor Day escape. South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Clive Savacool said officials hoped to open the hospital’s emergency room within 24 hours, but people with health problems might consider staying away due to air quality.
Authorities also warned that in the absence of people, bears went into town and scattered rubbish everywhere that needed to be picked up.
“The delicate balance between humans and bears has been disturbed,” and anyone who thinks a bear might have entered their home should call the El Dorado County Sheriff’s police force. said Simon Braun.
Mandatory evacuation orders remained in place for parts of the unincorporated El Dorado county south of South Lake Tahoe, including Meyers and Christmas Valley.
The lifting of mandatory evacuation orders for the Tahoe area marked a milestone in the battle against the August 14 fire that sprawled over nearly 880 square kilometers of dense national parks and forests, tree-lined granite boulders, and scattered huts and hamlets in the northern Sierra Nevada.
At its peak, the fire burned up to 1,000 acres an hour and last month the small community of Grizzly Flats was virtually razed to the ground.
But in the past few days the wind has eased and thousands of firefighters took advantage of the better weather to chop, burn, and bulldoz fire lines and managed to contain 44% of the perimeter by Monday.
Most of the west and south sides of the fire were encircled, although some areas were still closed off.
No houses were lost on the northeast side of the fire, closest to the lake, and the crews managed to carve more lines of fire along one edge of a fiery finger.
Authorities noted progress, but said single-digit humidity on Monday and a little more wind up to a mile (0.8 kilometers) away could lead to point fires. They asked the fire brigade to remain vigilant.
“We’re drier than I’ve seen in my 20 days on this fire,” said Jim Dudley, a weather forecast scientist. “In terms of the weather, there is a lot of potential that small things may not become so small.”
California and much of the western United States have seen dozens of forest fires in the past two months as the drought-stricken region simmered in hot, dry weather and winds drove flames through bone-dry vegetation.
In California, more than 14,500 firefighters fought 14 active fires. Since the start of the year, more than 7,000 forest fires have devoured 3,000 square miles (nearly 8,000 square kilometers), Cal Fire said.
A new fire broke out in Placer County on Sunday, burning half a square mile (1.2 square kilometers), triggering evacuation orders and warnings and road closures.
The fires are concentrated in Northern California, where a slight cooling in the weather and an increase in humidity are expected starting Tuesday.
No deaths specifically from the fires were reported.
Fire concerns have shut down all of the national forests in the state.
California has seen larger and more deadly forest fires in recent years as climate change has made the west much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said the weather will continue to be more extreme and forest fires will be more frequent, more destructive and more unpredictable.