South Lake Tahoe residents are making their cautious way home, with the Caldor Fire still burning nearby but, perhaps, kept at a safe distance.
The Caldor Fire began on August 14, just south of the community of Grizzly Flats in California, about halfway between Sacramento and the Nevada border. In just over three weeks, it has burned over 200,000 acres (340 square miles), and traveled over 42 miles from its origin. It involves two counties, El Dorado and Amador, and is currently considered 50 percent contained.
As the fire approached South Lake Tahoe, a well-populated resort area, over 40,000 people were given mandatory evacuation orders. Fire fighters turned their focus on keeping Highway 50, the only good way in and out of the area, free of the blaze.
Most residents spent over a week in hotels, shelters, or with family or friends waiting to learn if they would have homes to return to. On Sunday, they got the good news. The fire had been turned south by firefighting efforts, and the evacuation order was downgraded. Over 22,000 were allowed to go home, and resorts were swift to reopen.
Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said Californians should resist the urge to think Labor Day marks the end of summer and the end of fire season, as it did in past decades.
“Some have turned to looking forward as if this is now fall … [the] summer season is over. We’re right smack in the middle of wildfire peak season … The entire state shows drier, more wind events and large fire activity to continue,” Porter said.
Cal Fire’s long-range weather models show dry, windy weather to continue clear through December – perfect fire conditions.
Brady Hodge, a 45-year-old South Lake Tahoe evacuee who had to drive all the way to Reno to find a pet friendly hotel with space, is one of the early returnees. The first things he did on his homecoming was to toast his home with a glass of white wine, start his air purifier, and check on his neighbors’ homes, sending them reassurances. He doesn’t expect many of them will be back soon.