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Lovers Leap, El Dorado National Forest. (Photo: Katy Grimes for California Globe)

South Lake Tahoe Mandatory Evacuation Orders Downgraded

Residents start to return to the Southern Lake Tahoe area after nearly a week of threats by the nearby Caldor Fire

By Evan Symon, September 7, 2021 11:11 am

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) officials lifted mandatory evacuation orders in the Southern Lake Tahoe area on Monday due to fire crews having significantly beaten back the nearby Caldor Fire in the last week.

The Caldor Fire, which had began on August 14th in central El Dorado County, quickly grew in strength in the following days, rapidly pushing Eastward due to high winds and dry conditions. By the weekend of August 28th, the fire was encroaching the Lake Tahoe resort area. Despite firefighters best efforts, it finally reached a point on August 30th where several larger cities, including South Lake Tahoe, a city of 22,000 people, were threatened. Cal Fire officials had no choice but to issue mandatory evacuation orders, driving over 30,000 people to flee the area for nearby Nevada due to the fire blocking many westbound highways and roads.

While the fire was successfully steered away by Labor Day weekend, evacuation orders remained in place, with many who stayed behind still resorting to desperate measures, such as using snow-making machines, to help stop the fires’ advance.

The wildfire fighters efforts paid off by Monday, as El Dorado County evacuation orders were lifted in time to welcome people back for the end of Labor Day. According to Cal Fire on Tuesday, while the fire has so far burned up nearly 217,000 acres, the fire was 49% contained with it continuing to be pushed back away from populated areas.

Fire threat remains despite blaze being rapidly suppressed

However, crews remained in and around the area on Tuesday because the wildfire was still a threat in the area as a downgraded ‘evacuation warning,’ and some areas still under evacuation orders.

“We’re also looking long term, what’s going to happen, four, five or six days down the road. We want to make sure we’re planning and having stuff ready and completed,” said Cal Fire official John Davis. “And if it comes sooner, we are already in the planning process for the whole area that’s still under evacuation order.”

Many residents who returned during the three-day weekend noted to the Globe that while they were happy to be back, they found it to be frustrating that they had largely missed out on the normal Labor Day weekend spike in business, something more critical this year due to COVID-19 restrictions being mostly lifted.

“We were really looking forward to this weekend,” Janice Parker, a rental service employee in South Lake Tahoe, told the Globe Tuesday. “We were told orders would be lifting on Sunday, so you saw a lot of businesses start to come back yesterday, hoping for some turnout. There were some people, but the fire has kept a lot of people away.”

“We are noticing more interest from people still coming in the next several weekends, either coming here with moved vacation plans or even some wanting to see some of this damage close up, but it can’t replace what we lost here. And the fire too destroyed so much out there. It doesn’t look the same looking out there anymore.”

Other pressing matters, such as the 2021 Recall Election, are not expected to be disrupted after numerous early concerns by area campaigners.

“Postal service is here, you can drop off ballots, and voting centers look like they’ll be open next week,” said Charles Montoya, a phone bank monitor who has been coordinating a call and text drive to inform people to vote in Eastern California. “If anything, it’s good to know that natural disasters cannot hinder democracy. Things are looking good for the 14th.”

While no new fires spread rapidly over the weekend, the Dixie Fire came within 100,000 destroyed acres of the largest wildfire in state history on Tuesday, closing in on the 1,032,000 acre record set by the August Complex Fire last year. Currently, the Dixie Fire has burned 917,000 acres and is at 59% containment in the counties of Butte, Tehama, Plumas, Shasta and Lassen.

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Evan Symon
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