MARKLEEVILLE (CBS SF/AP) — A once-smoldering wildfire exploded to life, growing to 21,000 acres Saturday and sending a wall of wind-whipped flames toward the evacuated Sierra community of Markleeville.

The Tamarack Fire started on the Fourth of July due to lightning strikes, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The agency said it had been monitoring the blaze daily before it blew up Friday.

The rapidly-growing wildfire forced the cancellation of the “Death Ride,” an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada.

Evacuations were in place for Markleeville, Grover’s Hot Springs Park and Campground, Shay Creek, Markleeville Village and East Fork Resort. On Saturday afternoon, the fire’s rapid advance forced additional evacuations or Alpine Village and Woodfords areas.

120 personnel were fighting the fire as of Saturday evening and forced to focus on “targets of opportunity” to fight the flames.

“This evening firefighters will continue to actively suppress the fire where they can do so safely,” Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest officials said. “Utilizing a variety of tactics, national barriers and targets of opportunity.”

Fueled by extremely dry conditions, the fire — burning in mountainous terrain — grew from around 500 acres to 1,600 acres by 8 p.m. Friday and to 6,600 acres by daybreak Saturday. By early Saturday evening, the wildfire had expanded to 21,000 acres, according to Cal Fire.

A notice posted on the 103-mile Death Ride website ordered all riders to clear the area. The fire left thousands of bikers and spectators stranded in the small town and racing to get out.

The blaze also forced the cancellation of Saturday’s “Death Ride,” a 103-mile bicycle ride in the so-called California Alps over three Sierra Nevada mountain passes.

Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near the town Friday so her husband could participate in his ninth ride when they were told to leave. They had been watching smoke develop over the course of the day but were caught off guard by the fire’s quick spread.

“It happened so fast,” Pennington said. “We left our tents, hammock and some foods, but we got most of our things, shoved our two kids in the car and left.”

Paul Burgess, who drove from Los Angeles to participate in the ride, said most of the cyclists he met were thankful to steer clear of the fire danger.

“They just said this is just how it goes,” Burgess said. “It’s part of climate change to a certain extent, it’s part of just a lot of fuels that are not burnt, the humidity is low, the fuel moisture levels are low, and … around the state, many parts of it are much like a tinderbox.”

The massive pyrocumulus cloud stirred up by the intensity and heat of the blaze was visible to residents and visitors to Lake Tahoe.

Tamarack Fire

Tamarack Fire burns uncontrolled near Markleeville

Highways 88, 89 and 4 have been closed in the fire area. By 7:45 a.m., the blaze was 6 miles south of Markleeville and advancing quickly. At least three structures have burned.

By Saturday afternoon flames were rapidly spreading, crossing Highway 89 north of Markleeville and south of Airport Road.


“The Tamarack fire is moving fast and aggressively,” the Alpine County Sheriff’s Department posted on Facebook Saturday, imploring local residents to evacuate.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report