Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak also declared a state of emergency Monday in anticipation of flames from the Caldor Fire crossing state lines in the coming days.
The efforts to optimize resources come as the fire raced toward the vacation enclave of Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border.
“There was a huge amount of granite between the fire and us and I woke up on Sunday and it had, it had jumped that granite and now it is in the Lake Tahoe basin and homes are threatened and our community is threatened and I never thought that was possible.” said Mayor Tamara Wallace.
The town’s residents, about 20,000 people, left Monday. Wallace added there is no discussion about when residents will be allowed to return.
“Right now, the fire is raging through the Lake Tahoe basin, and we’re not even considering talking about that,” dismissed Wallace. “We’re just right now trying to see what happens with the structures and businesses in our community and our homes.” The city council will meet tonight remotely as their emergency operations center has moved to nearby Nevada.
Inmates at the South Lake Tahoe Jail were also evacuated, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office said.
The fire was active overnight and embers traveled up to three quarters of a mile, according to the incident report. Strong winds tested control lines and the area is under a red flag warning through Wednesday night, according to the incident report.
“We do have very active fire behavior, spotting, and torching and very dry fuels under these drought conditions and we expect this active firefight to continue over the next couple days under this weather condition,” warned Cal Fire Chief Brian Newman at a press briefing Monday night.
“Three-and-a-half hours of being stuck on Highway 50, I’m so appreciative that our citizens listened to the warning and the order and evacuated the city,” marveled South Lake Tahoe Police Chief David Stevenson. “Their response was fantastic and I appreciate them. I’m glad to know they are safe,” he said, grateful residents heeded the evacuation orders Monday.
“As many of you are aware, we are seeing larger and more destructive fires burn throughout California on a much more frequent basis. Historically, we’ve used the terms such as anomaly, unprecedented, or extreme to describe the wildfires that we have seen burn throughout the state over the last 20 years. These terms are no longer appropriate given the clear trends associated with drought, changing climate,” lamented Cal Fire Chief Chris Anthony. “Unfortunately, these factors contribute to the resistance to control that we’re seeing with the Caldor Fire,” he reasoned. “Many people, including myself, consider the Tahoe Basin a unique treasure and a natural wonder of the world whether you live here full time, own a second home here, visit the basin during family vacations, or simply recreate here, there are simply hundreds of thousands of people who hold Tahoe dear to their heart.”
The fire destroyed 486 homes and threatens 33,679 structures.
Cal Fire estimates full containment by September 13. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Roads in the area quickly became clogged with traffic as residents scrambled to leave.
So far, the Caldor Fire has destroyed 664 structures — residential, commercial or otherwise — according to Cal Fire. Nearly 40 structures have been damaged and five injuries are reported, officials said.
The area is also very dry, with relative humidity running between 5% and 10%, Guy said. The low humidity and lack of rain is providing plenty of parched land for the fire to burn.
Smoke and haze are also going to be a problem and are in the forecast for the next seven days, Guy said, noting this will at least help keep temperatures relatively mild with highs in the upper 70s.
National Forests closed to the public as fires ravage California
With resources stretched and no relief from the fire-fueling conditions in sight, the US Forest Service is temporarily closing all national forests in California.
The closure goes into effect Tuesday night and will last through at least September 17, the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region said Monday.
The order is a precautionary step to reduce the likelihood that visitors could become trapped during emergency fire circumstances, the Forest Service said.
“We do not take this decision lightly, but this is the best choice for public safety,” Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien said in a statement. “It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”
As the fires continue to spread, approximately 200 US Army Soldiers are being trained to assist firefighters in their battle against the flames, a statement from US Army North Public Affairs said.
Units from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state will be trained to assist with the response to the Dixie Fire which is burning on National Parks land, the release said.
CNN’s Michael Guy, Hollie Silverman, Stella Chan, Jenn Selva, Andy Rose, Joe Sutton and Alexandra Meeks contributed to this story.