POLLOCK PINES (CBS SF) — Like many residents in the Sierra foothills, San Francisco winemakers Amy and Aaron Bryan find themselves in a battle with the smoke and flames of the raging Caldor Fire.
By Wednesday morning, the massive fire burning west of the Lake Tahoe Basin had grown to 122,980 acres with just 11% containment. It has burned several hundred homes and ravaged the community of Grizzly Flats.READ MORE: S.F. Supervisors Set to Designate Casa Sanchez Bldg. in Mission District a Historical Landmark
Thousands of other residents are anxiously watching the billowing smoke clouds on the horizon.
Among them is a Bay Area couple who started their winemaking operation — Conduit Wines — in San Francisco’s Mission District back in 2013. They purchased acreage to grow their grapes in the foothills region near the Cosumnes River 13 months ago.
It was a big decision after weathering the economic storm of the COVID pandemic.
“We clawed our way out of the pandemic in San Francisco and lost all of our restaurant and bar business,” Amy Bryan said. “Got back and tried to climb out of a hole and this happens right during harvest.”
The couple has been able to harvest 8 of the 17 tons of grapes they were expecting to gather this year. If they can’t finish the job, they admit it will be devastating.
“We pretty much pushed all on this property,” Aaron said. “So it would be pretty devastating I would say. We are trying not to think about it.”
The fire burning along the north and middle fork of the Cosumnes River forms the west edge of the blaze. Flames threatened the wineries in the region and Pollock Pines, Strawberry, Kyburz and several other small communities.
On its eastern edge, the Caldor continues to edge ever closer to the heavily populated Lake Tahoe Basin. Evacuation orders and warnings have been issued residents just east of Echo Summit and South Lake Tahoe has activated its emergency operations center as a precaution.
“To say this fire is a concern is an understatement,” Lake Valley Fire Chief Brad Zlendick told an online community meeting Tuesday evening. “We are concerned about it affecting our cabins, our homes on top of Echo Summit. We are concerned about the community of Myers.”READ MORE: UPDATE: Vasco Road Reopened in Byron After Multi-Vehicle Injury Crash
Cal Fire Operations Chief Mike Blankenheim told the meeting that although the fire’s progress has slowed, it’s still a major threat.
“We had a rather significant run of about 40,000 acres over a 20-hour period that moved the fire up past Grizzly Flats,” he said. “After that the weather has moderated a little bit. Still super dry, still super hot, but the wind and air movement has slowed way down for us. That has led to a lot of fire growth in very steep, very difficult country with very heavy fuel loading but we haven’t seen the massive fire spread like we did with that large run.”
Jeff Marsolais, supervisor for the Eldorado National Forest and an administrator on the fire, told the meeting that the blaze initially overwhelmed crews. Since that time, the force along the fire lines has grown to more than 2,100 firefighters.
“This fire has just simply outpaced us,” he said. “We emptied the cupboards of resources…No matter how many folks we tried to get on it, it just continued to outpace us…We’ve seen different fire behaviors over the last several days. It has continued to chunk through the forested areas and continues to progress, but not nearly like it had, but that can changed.”
In those early hours, the fire ripped through Grizzly Flats, leaving a scene of total devastation that has become all too familiar this fire season. The massive Dixie Fire burning in Plumas, Butte and Lassen counties, ravaged the small communities of Greenville and Canyondam.
“To say they (Grizzly Peak) residents received a lot of damage would be an understatement,” Blankenheim said. “We are still going through the damage on that. There are going to be several hundreds homes lost there.”
Highway 50 — a major traffic route between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe — remained closed on Wednesday. Flames have jumped the roadway “in some places.”
The thick blanket of smoke and ash continued to drape over the Lake Tahoe skies on Wednesday. The air quality index on showed a reading of 530 for some areas of the Tahoe region among the worst on the planet
CALDOR FIRE: Incident Information, Evacuations, Maps
Current mandatory evacuations include:
- Grizzly Flats: The areas on Grizzly Flats Road east of Kendra Way into Grizzly Flats Proper. The areas of Diamond Railroad Grade, Old School House, Sweeney Road, Caldor Road, and steely Ridge.
- Grizzly Flats Road east of four corners in somerset into Grizzly Flats Proper.
- The areas of Myers Lane, Varmet Ridge Road, Rodwell Canyon Road, Snowbird Lane, and Mehwald Lane.
- East of Sly Park Road between Highway 50 and Mormon Emigrant Trail to Ice House Road. This includes the communities of Pacific House and Fresh Pond.
- North of Highway 50, east of Forebay Road to Ice House Road.
- Intersection of Perry Creek and Hawk Haven, the East side of Fairplay Road from Perry Creek South to Cedarville Road. This includes Slug Gulch, Omo Ranch, and all roads off of Slug Gulch and Omo Ranch.
- All roads off of Omo Ranch from Cedarville Road to Hwy 88.
- The area between Highway 88 and Mormon Emigrant Trail
- South of Highway 50 from Snows Road to Ice House Road.
- Between Highway 50 and Slab Creek from Snows Road to Ice House Road.
- South of Highway 50 from Ice House Road to Silver Fork Road. This includes the community of Kyburz.
- North of Highway 50 from Ice House Road to Silver Fork Road to include Ice House Reservoir, Union Valley Reservoir, and Loon Lake.
- Silver Fork Road in Kyburz east to Twin Bridges.
- North and south in a line extending from Twin Bridges to the Placer County line and south to the Amador County line.
- Areas south of Farnham Ridge Road and east of Bridgeport School Road to the Amador County line.
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REMINDER: Hwy 50 remains closed between Sly Park and Meyers due to the #CaldorFire. Listen to your local authorities and know alternate routes. Check @CaltransDist3 for the latest updates. https://t.co/uvpiHqQn5n pic.twitter.com/hjreey5n6p
— Cal OES (@Cal_OES) August 23, 2021
Evacuations warnings for El Dorado County and Amador County along with road closures can be found here.