California, USA — Firefighters trying to tame a raging wildfire near LakeTahoe Tuesday suffered a setback when the blaze jumped a fireline near adensely populated area, forcing a new round of evacuations, authorities said.
Firefighters were working to protect the Tallac Village development outside SouthLake Tahoe when the blaze jumped their fireline, prompting the evacuationof the entire subdivision. It was unclear how many homes were subject to theorder.
“It’s a fairly populated area,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesmanTim Evans. “That certainly is not good news for our firefighting effortshere.”
The danger to homes diminished overnight as firefighters got a badly neededadvantage on the inferno. But it was still burning throughout the day alongrugged, uninhabited slopes and authorities had cautioned that strong windsforecast to arrive Wednesday could fan the flames.
The flare-up is about three miles from where the fire started Sunday near thesouth end of Lake Tahoe. By Tuesday afternoon, the blaze had consumed more than2,700 acres and was about 40 percent contained, fire officials said. One minorinjury has been reported.
Meanwhile Tuesday, other families whose homes were in the path of thewildfire returned to their property, finding some houses reduced to charredruins and others largely unscathed, except for the odor of smoke and a blanketof ash.
In the most heavily damaged neighborhoods, firefighters doused pockets oflingering flames. Smoke hung thick over blackened piles of rubble that were oncehomes to nurses, police officers and teachers.
“I didn’t save hardly anything in the house,” said retiredfirefighter John Hartzell, who lost his home of 20 years. Along with his wife,adult son and a daughter, he sorted through the rubble in search of any mementos.
“I got out with the clothes on my back, my fire coat and my helmet,”he said.
Elsewhere, a beautiful home stood nearly untouched, even though all the sodin its yard had burned.
“It picks and chooses,” said Lynn Cisl, whose home along the edgeof the most damaged area also survived. “It’s sort of like a disease. It’sdevastating.”
Investigators determined that the fire began near Seneca Pond, an areapopular with runners and teenagers in this resort area along theCalifornia-Nevada state line. They also said they were close to identifying itscause. An announcement on that was expected later Tuesday.
Authorities have said they believe the fire was caused by some kind of humanactivity, but U.S Forest Service officials said there was no indication it wasintentionally set.
The forest here was so dry that a discarded cigarette butt or match couldeasily have ignited the fire, Forest Service spokeswoman Beth Brady said. Thearea was also dotted with the remnants of illegal campfires, she said.
Experts have said Californiaand the rest of the West are entering what could be a long and dangerous fireseason after one of the region’s driest winters on record. They warn that yearsof logging, development and forest mismanagement have left the Tahoe areaparticularly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires.
“Lake Tahoe Basin is probably an extreme example, but very similarconditions exist throughout the SierraNevada,” Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes said. “It canhappen literally anywhere at any moment.”
In Meyers, the charred landscape included manicured driveways leading tometal garage doors that were still standing amid the ruins of destroyed homes.
Hartzell’s sister-in-law, Ruth Orozco, a nurse, also lost her home but wasable to escape with her two dogs and one cat.
“I can’t believe it’s all gone,” she said, breaking into tears.
Concerned about looting, dozens of sheriff’s deputies and California HighwayPatrol officers roamed the burned neighborhoods, ensuring that only those wholived in the area were allowed in. Cars lined up to pass through an elaboratecheckpoint where each vehicle’s window was marked with white shoe polish todesignate the street number of the home it was allowed to visit.
“It was eerie and awkward. You could see the expressions on everyone’sface,” said Lindsey Douglass, 22, after she made her way through the lineof more than 30 waiting cars.
Concerns about downed power lines and other hazards forced some homeowners todelay their return until later this week.