SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (CBS SF) — With containment of the massive Caldor Fire growing by the hour, the El Dorado County sheriff downgraded evacuation orders to warnings for many neighborhoods in South Lake Tahoe Sunday, allowing thousands of residents to begin the journey back to their homes.

On Wednesday, the 22,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe were forced to evacuate their homes as a wall of flames roared over Echo Summit and descended down the mountains toward the Lake Tahoe basin. Thousands of firefighters were able to stop the advance in the Christmas Valley and keep it from crossing into South Lake Tahoe city limits and the heavily populated Pioneer Trail neighborhoods.

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The areas impacted by Sunday’s downgrade included:

  • South Lake Tahoe City Limits — From the Nevada State line west along Highway 50 to the Tahoe airport; Highway 89 from the city northwest to the city’s edge at West Way Pioneer Trail from State Kine west to Al Tahoe Blvd.
  • North of the City of South Lake Tahoe — All properties on the East (Lake side) of Highway 89 extending north from the city limits to Emerald Bay. All properties on both sides of Highway 89 extending North from Emerald Bay through Tahoma.

The sheriff said the area of Fallen Leaf Lake, Christmas Valley, Meyers and North Upper Truckee remained under an evacuation order.

CALDOR FIRE:

By Sunday afternoon, the fire had grown to 215,400 acres and was 43% contained — up 8% from Saturday afternoon.

In his Sunday morning briefing, Cal Fire West Zone operations chief Tim Ernst said crews were taking advantage of another day of improving weather to strengthen control lines and increase containment.

“Yesterday (Saturday), we had another productive shift,” he said. “It was a little bit drier with the humidity dropping, that always causes an impact on fire behavior for the day … We did not have any runs of fire that challenged us any place around the whole incident, we did have lot more hot spots pop up (along the western edge of the fire) … They have not had any structure loss along the entire East Zone (around South Lake Tahoe). They continue to hold the perimeter constant.”

Bulldozers with giant blades, crews armed with shovels and a fleet of aircraft dropping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant helped all but halt the fire’s advance.

“Things are clearly heading in the right direction for us,” said Dean Gould, a supervisor with the U.S. Forest Service.

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While the residents will be returning home for Labor Day, the wildfire has dealt a major blow to the area’s economy that heavily depends on tourism and was starting to rebound this summer from pandemic shutdowns.

“It’s a big hit for our local businesses and the workers who rely on a steady income to pay rent and put food on their table,” said Devin Middlebrook, mayor pro tem of South Lake Tahoe.

He said the shutdown will also hurt the city, as it gets most of its revenue to pay for police and fire services, as well as road maintenance, from hotel taxes and sales taxes.

On Saturday, hundreds of residents were allowed to return to their homes on the western edge of the blaze near Pollock Pines.

“We put hundreds back into their residences,” Ernest said on Saturday. “On behalf of all those folks, I want to say thank you … The incident looks better and better every day. We talked yesterday about being cautiously optimistic and we continue in that mode. ”

The wildfire ignited near Pollock Pines on Aug. 14 and grew into a wind-whipped conflagration that devastated the El Dorado County community of Grizzly Flats, eventually destroying hundreds of homes before it marched along Highway 50, over Echo Summit into the outskirts of South Lake Tahoe.

Among those forced from their homes was Cheryl Romaine. She woke up back home Saturday morning.

“We’re glad to be back home, we missed our little retreat here,” she said. “We’ve never had this happen before. During the King Fire, we only evacuated for one day. And that wasn’t even mandatory. But this one I guess just went crazy.”

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