STRAWBERRY (CBS SF) — The massive Caldor Fire advanced toward Echo Summit Sunday afternoon, burning cabins near Camp Sacramento as crews raced to build protection lines at the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort and residents were ordered to evacuate their homes in Myers, Fallen Leaf Lake and Christmas Valley.

The El Dorado Sheriff Department issued the evacuation orders along Highway 89 as the fire inched ever closer to the Tahoe Basin while their counterparts in Alpine County also ordered residents from their homes along Highway 88 including the Kirkwood Ski Resort.

Hours later, the El Dorado County sheriff issued an evacuation warning for the entire Tahoe Basin. Officials at South Lake Tahoe’s Barton Memorial Hospital said they were beginning to evacuate admitted patients to other regional facilities.

“It’s been an active day with a lot of extreme rates of spread and critical fire movement,” Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Erich Schwab said at an Sunday evening news conference.

Along the eastern edge of the blaze, clearing skies whipped up the flames, advancing the fire “2 1/2 miles with no sign of it starting to slow down,” Schwad said.

The fire had jumped to the north side of Highway 50 and was established on Ralston Ridge. Crews were taking defensive measures to protect structures to the south at the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort.

Near Camp Sacramento, the fire burned several cabins by Sunday evening.

Schwab said an additional 25 strike teams have been rushed to the area near Kirkwood to prepare to take on the fire.

Meanwhile, in the area near Echo Summit, more than 100 Cal Fire, Forest Service and hotshot crews were digging in as the flames continued to approach.

“Today has been a rough day,” said El Dorado National Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais. “There is no bones about it. I think the team is doing an excellent job of trying to stay in front of a very evolving fire…Today it let loose.”

By Sunday evening, the blaze had grown to 168,387 acres and was 13 percent contained. Three firefighters and two civilians have suffered injuries and a Galt police officer enroute to help with law enforcement in the fire zone was killed in accident.

So far, the flames have destroyed 471 homes — several of them residences in the fire-ravaged community of Grizzly Flats — and was threatening another 21,451 structures. Over 24,000 residents have been forced from their homes in the small communities that line Highway 50 — a major traffic artery connecting Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe.

During his Sunday morning briefing, Cal Fire Operations Chief Tim Ernst said crews were in an intense firefight in a finger of the blaze south of Sly Park Road on the western edge of the blaze.

“As the shift started Saturday, there were a number of spots (spot fires) being thrown between of the homes,” he said. “So firefighters actively engaged a large number of those spots.”

Ernst said firefighters were able to keep flames away from an area of cabins visible from Highway 50 along the American River during the afternoon.

But he said there was an intense, on-going firefight to save Strawberry on the eastern edge near the Lake Tahoe basin.

“The fire came into Strawberry last night,” Schwab said. “We were nursing the fire around all the structures both on the east and west side throughout the night and were very successful.”

However, there was a spot fire burning on the south side of Strawberry Creek that was outside of the containment lines and presenting challenges Sunday morning.


 

Among the many other challenges facing the 3,500 firefighters battling the blaze is a terrain that generates its own winds.

“This fire is in an area that has multiple deep, steep drainages,” said Steve Volmer, a fire behavior analyst with Cal Fire. “We have a saying — ‘Where water flows, wind goes.’ So you can see all the problem areas of the fire where we have had issues have been in those deep, steep drainages along Highway 50…They (the winds) are continuing to send out spot fires along Highway 50, down in Camp Creek and Slug Gulch.”

Those spots are being ignited 3/4 of a mile ahead of the main fire.

Volmer said the flames were also being fueled by the fire history of the region.

“Right now, we have a lot of heavy, dead, down material inside this fire area,” he said. “The area has very little fire history dating back to 1940 and almost no recorded fire history before 1940. There are a large number of extremely large diameter logs that are still cooking, on fire. They are still burning down and still producing all that smoke.”

Firefighters will also be dealing with Red Flag Warning weather conditions over the fire zone that will develop early Monday and stretch into Tuesday.

Cal Fire meteorologist Jim Dudley said winds will be kicking up to as much as 35 mph gusts in the upper elevations near Echo Summit.

“Those are going to begin Sunday night and increase in speeds on Monday and they will persist through Monday night and into Tuesday,” Dudley said of the winds.

Numerous evacuation orders remain in effect Saturday, all in El Dorado County:

  • Grizzly Flat: 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.
  • From Twin Bridges east to Echo Summit.
  • From Highway 50 South to Amador/ Alpine County Line.
  • From Highway 50 North to Flag Pole Peak.
  • Pleasant Valley Road and all intersecting roads extending south from Newtown Road to the intersection of E-16 (Mt Aukum Road).
  • All roads accessed from E-16 (Mt Aukum Road) between Pleasant Valley Road and Bucks Bar Road.
  • This includes all roads and residences accessed from Moon-Shadow and Gopher Hole Road off Bucks Bar Road.

Meanwhile, evacuation warnings are in effect for parts of Amador, El Dorado and Alpine counties. A full list can be found here.

Highway 50 continues to be closed from the Sly Park Road exit to the Highway 89 interchange in Meyers.

The fire, which was first reported on August 14 near the community of Grizzly Flats, is not expected to be fully contained until at least September 8. Officials said the cause is under investigation.