A popular vacation haven normally filled with tens of thousands of summer tourists was clogged with fleeing vehicles Monday (Aug. 30) after the entire resort city of South Lake Tahoe was ordered to leave as a ferocious wildfire raced toward Lake Tahoe, a sparkling gem on the California-Nevada state line, according to the Associated Press.
Vehicles loaded with bikes and camping gear and hauling boats were in gridlock traffic in the city of 22,000, stalled in hazy, brown air that smelled like a campfire. Police and other emergency vehicles whizzed by.
Ken Breslin was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from his home, with only a quarter-tank of gas in his Ford Escape. His son begged him to leave Sunday night, but he shrugged him off, certain that if an evacuation order came, it would be later in the week.
“Before, it was, ‘No worries … it’s not going to crest. It’s not gonna come down the hill. There’s 3,500 firefighters, all those bulldozers and all the air support,’” he said. “Until this morning, I didn’t think there was a chance it could come into this area. Now, it’s very real.”
By Monday night the fire had crossed state highways 50 and 89 and burned mountain cabins as it churned down slopes toward the Tahoe Basin. Flames came within just a few miles of South Lake Tahoe and residents of communities just over the state line in Douglas County, Nev., were warned to get ready to evacuate.
Monday’s fresh evacuation orders, unheard of in South Lake Tahoe, came a day after communities several miles south of the lake were abruptly ordered to evacuate as the Caldor Fire raged nearby. The city’s main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, proactively evacuated dozens of patients, and the El Dorado Sheriff’s Office transferred inmates to a neighboring jail.
“There is fire activity happening in California that we have never seen before. The critical thing for the public to know is to evacuate early,” said Chief Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “For the rest of you in California: Every acre can and will burn someday in this state.”