Caldor Fire

South Lake Tahoe Evacuations Downgraded as Crews Battle Caldor Fire

Firefighters say improving weather conditions have allowed them to contain more of the blaze.

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What to Know

  • The Caldor Fire in El Dorado and Amador counties has burned nearly 215,400 acres and is 43% contained.
  • The blaze has destroyed at least 920 structures and damaged another 73.
  • Nearly 28,000 structures remain threatened.

Crews continued to make progress battling the Caldor Fire on Sunday, the 21st day the blaze has been burning.

As of Sunday morning, Cal Fire reported the Caldor Fire was 43% contained.

Via a press release, officials announced all evacuation orders in South Lake Tahoe were downgraded to evacuation warnings as crews continue to battle and get a hold of the intensive blazes.

The changes go into effect immediately in the following areas:

South Lake Tahoe City Limits - From the Nevada State line west along Highway 50 to the Tahoe airport. Highway 89 from the city northwest to the city's edge at West Way. Also Pioneer Trail from state line west to Al Tahoe Blvd.

North of the City of South Lake Tahoe - All properties on the East (lake side) of Highway 89 extending north from the city limits to Emerald Bay. All properties on both sides of Highway 89 extending North from Emerald Bay through Tahoma.

The agencies leading the response credit a morning smoke inversion and low windspeeds Saturday morning for creating easier-to-manage fire behavior. Along Highway 50, fire crews could be spotted working in the thick smoke that still hands in the air, mopping up areas still smoldering after the fire

The progress keeping back the fire back has also allowed a growing number of evacuees to return to their homes. Saturday, more evacuation orders were downgraded to evacuation warnings in parts of El Dorado County, meaning more evacuees can finally return home. Parts of Douglas County in Nevada also saw more orders lifted, allowing evacuees there to make the trip home as well.

In total, Cal Fire said 43,195 people have been evacuated as a result of the Caldor Fire. Cal Fire currently does not track the number of residents returning home, but NBC Bay Area crews did see a steady trickle of people driving into the areas where evacuation orders were lifted Saturday.

In Pollock Pines, Raymond, who declined to share his last name, was elated that he and his dog could return to their home in the woods Friday afternoon.

"It's joyous, we are so happy to be hack!" he exclaimed.

His cabin was still standing, now he is stocking up on fuel and the essentials he needs.

For those evacuees able to return home, Cal Fire does advise caution. Cal Fire Public Information Officer Denise Gibbons explained that the agency has created a checklist for homeowners as they return to their properties.

"Just go around the house, look on the outside, just make sure there aren't any hazards on the outside," Gibbons advised. "Take a look also on the inside, make sure your utilities are on, make sure your water is safe -- little things like that."

For those evacuees who haven't been allowed to return home, Gibbons has a message: "hang in there."

Caldor Fire maps

"I've been evacuated from another fire as well, so I totally empathize with them," said Gibbons, who said she had to evacuate her home because of the Dixie Fire. She noted that many first responders combatting the Caldor Fire have been evacuated from their own homes as well.

Gibbons explained that fire crews are not out of the woods yet when it comes to the risk of the Caldor fire.

"You can take a look at the Dixie fire -- fire has its own mind," she said. "We hope [this fire is fully contained soon], but we don't know."

On what would normally be a busy Labor Day weekend, South Lake Tahoe streets remained barren and businesses remained shuttered. Many residents there evacuated to Carson City Nevada, around 30 miles away.

Sue McLaughlin and her family evacuated to Carson City earlier this week.

"I think Lake Tahoe has dispersed, and I think a lot of people had no choice and had to get out of here quick," McLaughlin said.

She and her family have been able to stay in town with family.

"Many people are not so lucky," she noted.

"I am so thankful for all the firefighter and first responders that are up there -- being number one priority in the country means a lot to Lake Tahoe and the basin, it's our home," McLaughlin added.

Her husband, Danny McLaughlin, added that while they can't wait to return home, they are happy to wait as first responders continue to do the work they need to do.

"How in the world were they able to protect Lake Tahoe, how they kept the fire away from homes when it was right next to them and no structures [at Tahoe] were burned? It's absolutely amazing what these firefighters did, you cannot say enough positive things about them," McLaughlin marveled.

Trees smolder along Highway 50 near Pollock Pines where crews are mopping up parts of the Caldor Fire. NBC Bay Area Photo/ Alyssa Goard.
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