As pleasure boaters and vacationers on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe watched anxiously, firefighters seemingly managed to control a fast-moving wildfire Saturday evening before it could become another Sierra Nevada conflagration.
The fire broke out at a Sunnyside home, just south of Tahoe City, about 1:30 p.m. The home, on Washoe Way, was fully engulfed by the time fire crews arrived. The fire spread to four nearby homes and another structure.
Fanned by 25 mph winds, the fire moved north from the homes and into the Lake Tahoe Basin National Forest, burning almost 15 acres, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman.
“We are under extraordinary fire danger because of the very dry conditions resulting from a mild winter,” he said.
Guests at the Granlibakken Conference Center just south of Tahoe City had half an hour to grab their belongings and evacuate the smoke-choked resort on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe on Saturday afternoon. They were among hundreds of residents forced to evacuate.
Granlibakken receptionist Sarah Burke hustled to ensure that all of the hotel’s 158 guests had rides to Tahoe City, where a Red Cross evacuation center had been set up at the Fairway Community Center.
“It’s pretty bad right now, pretty smoky,” said Burke. “We just have to get out of the area.”
By 9 p.m. some people were allowed back into the evacuated areas, including Granlibakken, but some neighborhoods remained off-limits overnight, said Placer County Office of Emergency Services spokeswoman Anita Yoder.
Firefighters expected to have the fire contained by 10 p.m.
Because the blaze was accessible by paved roads, fire crews from the North Tahoe Fire Protection District and the forest service were able to respond quickly, Norman said. Twenty engines were on the scene, as well as three helicopters, three tanker planes and an aerial reconnaissance plane.
Erika Rothschild of Nevada City watched from her boat.
“It just kept growing and growing and growing,” said Rothschild, who summers on the lake.
Plumes of smoke could be seen from across the lake at Harvey’s Casino in Nevada.
Jeff Oxandaboure, general manager of the Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge, said the fire started four blocks north of his business, which remained open. “Fire danger is immense right now in Tahoe. It’s going to remain that way through the fall.”
The response to the fire was rapid, said Leigh Rozvar, owner of the Sunnyside Market. Within half an hour of the fire’s start, there were numerous agencies on the scene, he said, including helicopters that dumped water from the lake into the fire.
“I’m really impressed,” said Rozvar, 71, a former fire chief with the volunteer Alpine Meadows Fire Department. Rozvar said the quick, organized reaction appeared to be a result of extensive planning after the recent blazes in South Lake Tahoe. “They had helicopters on this so fast. If they’re successful, it’s a result of that event that happened in South Lake Tahoe.
“From what I see, they’re doing a heck of a job.”
Norman said the fast response was standard procedure, though he added: “We’ve had some recent practice.”
The blaze is about 20 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, where a wildfire that began June 24 destroyed 254 homes and charred more than 3,000 acres. It took firefighters eight days to contain the fire, at a cost of $12.1 million.
Highway 89’s southbound lane was closed through the fire area but reopened by 9 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.