Residents return to Lake Tahoe area as wildfire stalls

  • Traffic flows along Highway 50 near Stateline, Nev., as residents begin to return to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. Cal Fire officials downgraded some evacuation orders near Lake Tahoe and allowed thousands of South Lake Tahoe residents who fled the Caldor Fire last week to return home Sunday. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP) Jane Tyska

  • Lela Hill sits in her family's moving truck after returning to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. Mid-move, her family was among thousands of people who were evacuated from the resort town due to the Caldor Fire last week. (AP Photo/Samuel Metz) Samuel Metz

  • RETRANSMISSION WITH UPDATED CAPTION Logan Umbdenstock, an employee of a water sports rental business, helps bring rental boats back to Ski Run Marina in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. Tahoe Sports Ski, Run, Boat Company moved their boat and jet ski inventory out of the marina and into Lake Tahoe last week when the resort town was evacuated due to approaching wildfire. (AP Photo/Samuel Metz) Samuel Metz

  • Smoke shrouds parts of Lake Tahoe visible from Ski Run Marina in downtown South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. Officials lifted the evacuation order on Sunday after firefighters successfully stalled the Caldor Fire from entering the resort town but warned residents that wildfires continued to cloak the city in smoke. (AP Photo/Samuel Metz) Samuel Metz

  • South Lake Tahoe resident Connor Jones sits with his dog on a smoke-cloaked empty beach in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Monday Sept. 6, 2021. Residents who fled South Lake Tahoe under threat of a wildfire were allowed to return as crews stalled the flames from advancing. (AP Photo/Samuel Metz) Samuel Metz

  • A sign outside a South Lake Tahoe Fire Station welcomes residents back to town after the lifting of the evacuation order Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. The resort town of some 22,000 was cleared last week due to the Caldor Fire. (AP Photo/Samuel Metz) Samuel Metz

  • Traffic flows along Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. Cal Fire officials downgraded some evacuation orders near Lake Tahoe and allowed thousands of South Lake Tahoe residents who fled the Caldor Fire last week to return home Sunday. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP) Jane Tyska

  • A smoky sunset is seen over Lake Tahoe from Lakeside Beach in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Sunday. Bay Area News Group via AP

  • South Lake Tahoe firefighter Leo Gebhardt gestures to passing cars as they honk their horns along Highway 50 near Stateline, Nev., in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. Cal Fire officials downgraded some evacuation orders near Lake Tahoe and allowed thousands of South Lake Tahoe residents who fled the Caldor Fire last week to return home Sunday. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP) Jane Tyska

  • FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, Bill Roberts rolls up an American flag in front of his house in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., a day after the city was ordered to evacuate because of the approaching Caldor Fire. State fire officials say evacuation orders for the area were reduced to warnings as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 5. Some 22,000 people had been forced to flee the popular resort and nearby areas last week as the Caldor Fire roared toward it. (AP Photo/Terry Chea, File) Terry Chea

  • FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, a shopping mall is empty after a mandatory evacuation was ordered due to the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. State fire officials said evacuation orders for the area were reduced to warnings as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 5. Some 22,000 people had been forced to flee the popular resort and nearby areas last week as the Caldor Fire roared toward it. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) Jae C. Hong

  • FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, file photo, a couple looks out on Lake Tahoe, which is blanketed by smoke from the Caldor Fire, in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. tate fire officials say evacuation orders for the area were reduced to warnings as of 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5. Some 22,000 people had been forced to flee the popular resort and nearby areas last week as the Caldor Fire roared toward it. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File) Noah Berger

Associated Press
Published: 9/6/2021 6:43:50 PM

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Thousands of people who fled South Lake Tahoe under threat of a wildfire were allowed to return as crews stalled the flames from advancing, but many shops remained dark Monday and the resort town’s normally bustling streets remained quiet.

A week ago, the scenic tourist town on the California-Nevada state line emptied out when authorities issued an evacuation order as the fire approached from south. Now, traffic is trickling back but nothing like the crowds that typically pour in over the summer to enjoy Lake Tahoe’s crystalline waters, which are covered by a smoky haze.

Lake Tahoe Community College student Dakota Jones returned Monday to South Lake Tahoe after being evacuated to Carson City, Nevada. He said he worried he’d find buildings damaged or covered in ash and was pleasantly surprised to find the city of 22,000 people largely untouched when he and his roommates, who were in the process of moving when the fire approached, drove a U-Haul full of their belongings back to their old apartment.

“I was honestly convinced this place was gonna go down,” Jones said. “It was nice to see that I was wrong.”

Evacuation orders for South Lake Tahoe and other lakeside areas were downgraded to warnings Sunday afternoon and California Highway Patrol officers began removing roadblocks along State Highway 50 from Nevada to the city limits. Authorities warned that residents of the scenic forest area weren’t out of the woods yet, with risks ranging from smoky, foul air to belligerent bears.

The threat from the Caldor Fire hasn’t entirely vanished but downgrading to a warning meant those who wish could return to their homes in what had been a smoke-choked ghost town instead of a thriving Labor Day getaway location. South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Clive Savacool said officials hoped to have the hospital emergency room open within 24 hours but people with health problems might want to consider staying away due to the air quality.

Authorities also warned that in the absence of humans, bears had gone to town, spreading trash everywhere that must be picked up.

“The delicate balance between humans and bears has been upset,” and anyone who thinks a bear may have entered their home should call law enforcement, El Dorado County sheriff’s Sgt. Simon Brown said.

Mandatory evacuation orders remained in place for parts of 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 fight against the fire, which erupted on Aug. 14 and spread across nearly 340 square miles of dense national parks and forests, tree-dotted granite cliffs and scattered cabins and hamlets in the northern Sierra Nevada.

At its peak, the fire burned as much as 1,000 acres an hour and last month virtually razed the small community of Grizzly Flats.

But in recent days the winds eased and thousands of firefighters took advantage of the better weather to hack, burn and bulldoze fire lines, managing to contain 44% of the perimeter by Monday.

Most of the western and southern sides of the fire were corralled, although some areas still were off-limits.

No homes were lost on the northeastern side of the fire nearest to the lake, and crews managed to carve more fire line along one edge of a fiery finger.

Authorities noted the progress but said single-digit humidity on Monday and slightly more wind could spur spot fires up to half a mile (0.8 kilometers) away. They urged firefighters to stay alert.

“We are drier than I have seen on my 20 days on this fire,” said Jim Dudley, incident meteorologist. “There’s a lot of potential weather-wise for little things to become maybe not so little.”

California and much of the U.S. West have seen dozens of wildfires in the past two months as the drought-stricken region sweltered under hot, dry weather and winds drove flames through bone-dry vegetation.

In California, more than 14,500 firefighters were battling 14 active fires. Since the year began, more than 7,000 wildfires have devoured 3,000 square miles (nearly 8,000 square kilometers), Cal Fire said.

On Sunday, a new fire broke out in Placer County, burning half a square mile (1.2 square kilometers) and prompting evacuation orders and warnings and road closures.

The fires have been concentrated in Northern California, where the weather is expected to cool slightly and the humidity to rise starting Tuesday.

No deaths have been reported specifically from the fires.

Fire concerns have shut down all national forests in the state.

California has experienced increasingly larger and deadlier wildfires in recent years as climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years. Scientists have said weather will continue to be more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable.

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Associated Press writer Amy Taxin in Orange County contributed to this report.




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