An explosive California wildfire that has forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and devastated a mountain community last week is “knocking on the door” of the Lake Tahoe basin, the state’s top fire official said Monday.
Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said the Caldor Fire was the “No. 1 priority in the nation” for securing more resources to help stave off the damage it could inflict on the popular destination and region, which is home to tens of thousands of people.
“It is that important,” Porter told reporters, adding: “We have all efforts to keep it out of the basin.”
The blaze has destroyed 557 buildings, Cal Fire said. Last week, it incinerated much of Grizzly Flats, a small community 65 miles east of Sacramento.
Eric Schwab, a Cal Fire section chief, said Monday that limiting the fire’s eastern spread toward Tahoe and small mountain communities was a “huge priority.” But firefighters were struggling to contain a spot fire in that section of the blaze that was quickly expanding, he said.
More than 24,000 people remained under evacuation orders Monday in El Dorado County, where the fire ignited Aug. 14, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Management Services.
The blaze, which grew by more than 47,000 acres in less than 24 hours, had swelled to more than 106,000 acres by Monday, and it was 5 percent contained. In recent days, the fire jumped U.S. Route 50, the main thoroughfare through the Tahoe area.
The fire is one of 12 large blazes burning across the state. A Cal Fire spokesman said Monday that a staggering 1.5 million acres have burned in California this year, a 42 percent jump from last year, when the most acres in modern history burned across the state.
Experts have attributed the state’s increasingly intense fire seasons to a historic drought magnified by climate change and a century of fire suppression policies that built up dense forests that can act as kindling.