STRAWBERRY (CBS SF) — A wall of flames from the Caldor Fire advanced along the Highway 50 corridor early Friday, stirring up ‘extreme fire behavior’ that ripped through thick stands of timber and tinder-dry underbrush as the blaze continued to move toward the heavily populated Lake Tahoe Basin.

During his Friday morning update, Cal Fire Operations Chief Tim Ernst said firefighters had a battle on their hands holding the eastern edge toward Lake Tahoe.

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Over the last 24 hours, the fire grew by more than 7,000 acres, mostly along the Highway 50 corridor that connects South Lake Tahoe with Sacramento.

The burn zone now stretches for 143,957 acres and there was just 12 percent containment. It has also destroyed at least 650 structures including several hundred homes in the community of Grizzly Flats.

“Over the last 24 hour period we had crown runs (tops of the trees) in this area (Highway 50) which was extreme fire behavior, the movement of fire, which caused this entire area to be torched,” Ernst said pointing to a map of Highway 50 west of Myers. “That has caused a lot of damage of trees and things falling down on the road. This road is extremely treacherous right now.”

He said that although the flames were raging along the highway, firefighters were able to protect the nearby homes from the fire overnight.

However, spot fires continued challenge firefighters near the community of Strawberry. Along the southeast flank, Ernst said, firefighters have been successful so far in keeping the flames at bay north of the Kirkwood ski resort.

“We’ve had numerous spots that continue to challenge the dozer lines,” he said of the defensive lines set up to protect Strawberry.

The advancing flames forced evacuation orders to be issued Thursday afternoon for residents living in the area between Twin Bridges and Echo Summit, as well as from Highway 50 south to the Amador/Alpine County line and north to Flag Pole Peak.

CALDOR FIRE:

To the west, firefighters were also in an intense battle along Sly Park Road.

“This is an extremely challenging piece of land,” Ernst said. “We have an active firefight going on with firefighters working to protect structures along the entire area.”

Aside from the rugged, isolated terrain, firefighters were also preparing for more challenging weather conditions.

Winds and temperatures were expected to pick up in coming days as the humidity drops, adding to the challenges endured by crews working in rugged terrain.

“That’s what’s closing the window of opportunity we’ve had to make progress and really get hold of the fire,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of the state firefighting agency.

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Johnny White and Lauren McCauley were among the more than 24,000 resident who have decided to flee their home. They packed up their vehicle once they could see flames on the webcam at their local ski resort.

Highway 50 would be a major escape route, but the flames have shut it down going west.

“You don’t want everyone in the basin panicking and scrambling to try and leave at the same time,” McCauley said.

On Thursday afternoon, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority went as far as recommending visitors to postpone any travel plans to the area due to impacts from the fire.

Thursday also marked the first time evacuation warnings moved into the Tahoe Basin, with warnings issued for residents of Christmas Valley as well as the area of west on Highway 88 to Kirkwood in Alpine County.

On a sad note, one of two Gait police officers injured in a crash while on the way to assist enforcement around the fire has died.

Officer Harminder Grewal succumbed to his injuries on Thursday following a head-on traffic collision with another vehicle.

“Officer Grewal took pride in serving his community and his work ethic was contagious to all who worked with him,” his department said in a Facebook post. “His service to our community will never be forgotten. Officer Grewal, a 2 ½ year veteran of the department, leaves behind a mother, father, brother and a countless number of family, friends, and loved ones.”

CALDOR FIRE:

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.

Evacuations warnings for El Dorado County and Amador County along with road closures can be found here.

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