Caldor Fire continues to threaten South Lake Tahoe as firefighters brace for more high winds

Caldor Fire continues to threaten South Lake Tahoe as firefighters brace for more high winds

As the climate-change induced western megadrought continues, California continues to be pummeled by extreme fire behavior. The latest, most dangerous new fire has been the Caldor Fire, a 200,000+ wildfire sparked two and a half weeks ago that is now closing in on the idyllic resort town of South Lake Tahoe.

Over 700 structures have been destroyed as the fire sweeps through timberland and small mountain towns; over 4,000 firefighters are now dispatched to help protect what they can. Evacuations in the area are widespread and growing, and any holdouts in those evacuation zones should leave immediately. On Monday, mass evacuations in the area resulted in complete gridlock on the highways leading away from danger.

The most current report from Cal Fire, the state’s wildfire protection force, marks the fire as 20% contained. Loosely speaking, that’s an approximation of how much of the fire’s perimeter firefighters have been able to safely secure—a number that can creep up as crews bulldoze new firebreaks but can creep down again if high winds blow embers even a full mile past areas crews are trying to secure.

Those winds are what have hampered efforts to stop the enormous blaze before it reaches South Lake Tahoe communities. In addition to bone-dry drought conditions, firefighters are expecting the return of wind gusts that could reach 40 mph.

The threat to South Lake Tahoe, including new evacuation zones that now reach into Nevada, is emblematic of what the state has been dealing with over the past five years. Both it and the Dixie Fire, a concurrent fire that has destroyed over 1,200 structures, jumped over rocky, steep terrain past firefighting efforts could rely on as natural firebreaks. Both started earlier in the summer than what has been typically considered California “fire season”: It’s typically September and October that see the most dangerous and largest fires due to completely dried-out summer vegetation and seasonal winds that regularly blow through the state’s canyons at speeds in excess of 40 or 50 mph.

It’s not unusual for those large blazes to keep spreading until the first rains of California’s winter hit in November or December. It is unusual for conditions to be so dry at the beginning of summer that it allows fire behaviors that match the most dangerous weeks of fall.

That’s what firefighters used to say. In recent years it seems every major fire has exhibited the sort of “extreme” behavior thought possible in only the largest and fastest-spreading past wildfires.

There’s no doubt that some of the fire damage the state has faced in recent years is a result of rural sprawl. The boundary lines between wildlands and housing communities are simply much longer now, because housing is expanding into terrain that didn’t have homes before. That means there’s more to protect, more to burn, and simply more miles of perimeter that firefighting teams must be divided along.

None of that, however, accounts for the changes in fire behavior that is making new fires far more difficult for firefighters to fight when they get there. It’s impossible to save a suburban street if the flames are traveling faster than firefighters can travel themselves. Climate change preparations are going to require massive new investment in fire prevention, just as Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard communities will require new infrastructure to protect from higher storm surges and more extreme rainfall events. These infrastructure investments simply aren’t optional. They either happen, or entire towns get wiped off the map.

What’s been less talked about in the press is the sense of constant dread that living under these conditions can produce. Living in a fire-prone area is exhausting during summer months when any roadside spark has the potential to spread to 100-acre fires in the span of a few hours. Fleeing an evacuation zone is an exhausting, traumatic experience that does not get better with time or repetition. Give some thought to those fleeing this current fire, and here’s hoping the wind dies down.

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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