Hundreds of homes threatened in Pollock Pines, with Caldor Fire now 12 miles from Tahoe Basin

The voracious Caldor Fire continued its advance toward Lake Tahoe on Friday, while also threatening hundreds of houses in Pollock Pines off Highway 50.

Fire crews have been readying for the approaching flames in Pollock Pines on the west edge of the 144,000-acre blaze for days, said Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Stephen Horner, plowing fire lines with bulldozers, making water and retardant drops and setting small controlled fires to deprive the area of fuels. Dozens of firefighters are stationed in the area “in preparation for the fire to burn up to their containment line,” Horner said Friday.

About 40 miles to the east, the fire was burning west of Strawberry on both sides of Highway 50 and was about 12 miles from entering the Tahoe Basin. The fire spread two miles Thursday afternoon after calm winds picked up and pushed the flames east and north.

“That’s where you’re going to see a lot of activity today,” Horner said, with the flames moving through the tops of trees.

The Caldor Fire started Aug. 14 south of Grizzly Flats and spread slowly for several days before exploding and leveling much of the small community. Since then, it’s continued to threaten the Pollock Pines area but started a steady march to the east and the Lake Tahoe Basin. The fire was just 12% contained Friday.

Cal Fire Director Thom Porter said this week that protecting the Lake Tahoe area from the Caldor Fire is the “No. 1 priority in the nation.” Hundreds of additional firefighters and aircraft have arrived to fight the fire — 3,200 were on the fire lines Friday, and more are coming, Horner said — but Cal Fire officials have warned that hot temperatures and afternoon winds could hamper the effort.

Evacuations were extended Thursday from Twin Bridges to Echo Summit with officials issuing the first warnings to prepare to vacate inside the Tahoe Basin. Residents of cabins and houses in rural Christmas Valley between Highway 89 and Echo Summit were advised to prepare to leave the area.

Flames have not yet entered the Tahoe Basin and evacuations haven’t been ordered. But smoke from the fire has poured into the area, turning the usually cerulean skies yellowish gray and filling them with floating ash.

Despite the dismal skies and spreading fire, Horner said he’s confident firefighters will be able to keep the fire from spilling out of the mountains and into the basin.

“It’s still a ways away,”’ he said. “I think we’ll get a handle on it before it reaches the basin.”

Meanwhile, the massive Dixie Fire burning in five mostly rural Northern California counties grew to 750,672 acres. It’s the second-largest fire in state history. The conflagration, which started July 14 in the Feather River Canyon in Plumas County, possibly from a PG&E equipment failure, has raged through parts of Butte, Tehama, Shasta and Lassen counties, including Lassen National Park.

The fire was 46% contained Friday, but fire officials said that light winds, high temperatures and low relative humidity levels forecast over the weekend may drive the fire. The fire is most active near Taylorsville, and crews have also built containment lines to protect Quincy and Greenhorn in Plumas County. More than 4,700 firefighters are battling the blaze.

In the Mother Lode, the Airola Fire in Calaveras County, which ignited Wednesday, held at 700 acres overnight, and the Washington Fire, which started Thursday in Sonora, was 81 acres and 10% contained Friday. The Bennett Fire in Grass Valley was 59 acres and 80% contained.

See a map of all the blazes burning across California here.

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ctuan


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