After a morning of steady progress against the massive Caldor fire in the mountains near South Lake Tahoe, strong winds on Saturday generated spot fires and new flame fronts that pushed the blaze closer toward the town of Strawberry.
Crews on the fire’s northeastern edge — the front closest to Tahoe — were initially “cautiously optimistic” as containment numbers increased for the first time in several days, from 12% to 19%, according to Cal Fire incident spokesman Jay Smith. The fire has so far burned nearly 150,000 acres.
“It’s burning at a low intensity, so there’s not a huge wall of fire coming this way,” Smith said from the staging area in Strawberry, noting that crews were working fast to lay bulldozer lines and hand lines between the fire and the town. “I’m pretty confident that we are going to be able to slow if not stop it from coming this way.”
Minutes later, flames appeared at the top of a ridge behind him and began working their way down the mountain. An hour after that, a spot fire ignited on the hillside abutting the historic Strawberry Lodge, sending fire roaring through the trees.
Caldor fire information officer Jason Hunter said the behavior was in line with afternoon wind patterns, which often increase fire intensity. When the spot fire met with strong winds, it generated “group tree torching,” he said.
But by dusk, firefighters were preparing to defend Strawberry’s general store, one of the town’s few businesses. It was something Hunter said crews were well prepared for.
“It’s very unlikely” that the building will catch, he said, noting that engines were in place and firefighters were standing by with hoses on their shoulders.
“California is a beautiful place, and it’s heartbreaking to lose trees like this,” he said of the fire moving down the hillside. “But we choose to put as many resources as we can to protect the structures, and to do everything we can to protect the forest.”
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