Caldor fire: changing winds offer hope as firefighters battle blaze near Lake Tahoe

With winds finally turning in their favor, firefighters are throwing all their resources into boxing a California blaze burning mere miles from Lake Tahoe and neighboring Nevada.

Three days of fiercely gusting winds had driven the Caldor fire east through the rugged Sierra Nevada, forcing tens of thousands of people from the region of forests, mountain hamlets, resorts and alpine lakes.

Overnight, thousands of firefighters from around the US battled the blaze, which by Thursday morning stretched across roughly 210,259 acres (850 sq km), and achieved 25% containment.

Winds were expected to calm heading into the weekend, although the humidity remained low and the eastern side of the vast wildfire was still burning trees and running through explosively dry grasslands into areas hard for firefighters to reach, authorities said. The blaze was also throwing sparks that caught trees and created spot fires up to a mile ahead of the main wall of flames.

“We’re battling what we can battle and waiting for those winds to subside,” said Stephen Vollmer, a fire behavior analyst for the California department of forestry and fire protection.

Comunque, the forecast made fire officials cautiously optimistic.

Easing winds could allow fire crews to get into densely forested areas to begin clearing toppled trees and branches that had blocked routes to remote communities, thus making it safer for evacuees to return to areas that burned soon after the fire ignited on 14 agosto, Vollmer said.

Resources have been stretched thin and firefighters are facing burnout after battling record-breaking blazes this season. Climate change has increased ignition risks across the west, as landscapes have warmed and dried. The conditions have made wildfires more frequent, more destructive, and harder to fight. Eighty-six fires burning across the region, with months left before winter rains could help soothe the parched region.

Nel frattempo, smoke from the fires is choking large parts of the west, and at times has reached across the country. Air quality in South Lake Tahoe became the most hazardous in the world, worrying researchers who said the toxic air caused by the wildfires is more hazardous to breathe than other types of air pollution.

“Wildfire smoke has a different chemical composition and different health effects than traffic pollution,” said the UCLA environmental health professor Yifang Zhu in a statement. She has also studied how the thick haze can contribute to the spread of Covid.

“People who are exposed to air pollution containing high levels of particulate matter are more susceptible to Covid," lei disse. “Wildfires, general air pollution and Covid sound like different topics, but they’re all public health crises that will take global efforts to address, and they disproportionately affect the most vulnerable communities.”

A Cal Fire strike team fighting the Caldor fire had to be removed from the ranks this week after they fell ill with the virus, i funzionari hanno detto. “We lost a whole strike team of crews yesterday, we lost a finance section chief due to [un] Covid positive,” Jeff Veik, a Cal Fire incident commander, said during an operations briefing on Tuesday, warning crews and others not to show up without masks.

Più di 4,450 firefighters and other personnel continue to fight the fire.

Fueled by swirling winds and dry conditions, the Caldor fire exploded in size over the weekend, crossing the Sierra Nevada to threaten South Lake Tahoe, the most populous city on the iconic lake. Di lunedi, tens of thousands of residents clogged roads after being told to evacuate.

By Thursday morning, one finger of the fire was roughly three miles (5km) south of South Lake Tahoe. But the fire was moving away from the town, toward the California-Nevada state line, authorities said.

Crews worked to keep flames away from urban communities on the fire’s path but 811 structures have been destroyed by the blaze. Firefighters were ferried by boat to protect cabins lining Echo Lake, a few miles south of Tahoe. Damage assessment crews are still working to determine the full scale of destruction and have inspected only 60% of the structures in the burn scar, officials reported on Thursday morning. Più di 32,800 buildings remain in the fire’s path.

Residents of Douglas county in Nevada were told to leave on Tuesday as the fire surged toward the state line, although casinos were excluded. Many stores and casinos on the Nevada side closed on Wednesday, tuttavia, and evacuation holdouts lacking cars lined up outside the Montbleu resort and casino in Stateline to board buses to Reno.

Di mercoledì, Joe Biden issued a federal emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local resources for firefighting efforts and relief for residents in four counties affected by the fire.

Più di 15,000 firefighters, with help from out-of-state crews, were battling dozens of California blazes, including another monstrous blaze in the same area.

Maj Gen David Baldwin, adjutant general of California, said the state had also deployed more than 1,000 national guard soldiers, airmen and sailors and 10 other states have sent about 1,250 additional guard members. Many of those are providing air support, Compreso 23 aircraft, some equipped with water buckets, others with systems that can drop fire retardant.

Di 65 miglia (105km) north of the Lake Tahoe-area blaze, the Dixie fire is the single largest wildfire in state history at more than 847,300 acres (3,428 sq km). The fire that has burned for more than a month prompted new evacuation orders and warnings this week and was just over 50% contained.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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