Fast-Spreading California Wildfire Reaches Lake Tahoe Basin

The Caldor fire burning in Northern California is spreading in “unprecedented” ways, leading to mass evacuations and destroying hundreds of homes.

A massive fire in Northern California is spreading at alarming rates, burning hundreds of homes and approaching famed Lake Tahoe.

The Caldor fire, which began Aug. 14, has burned more than 191,600 acres and is only 15% contained. The blaze has led to mass evacuations, destroyed over 660 homes and other buildings, and is threatening tens of thousands more.

The fire’s rapid growth prompted the U.S. Forest Service to close almost all national forests in the state starting late Tuesday through Sept. 17. Officials said the closures will both reduce the potential for additional fires and minimize the likelihood of visitors becoming trapped in a forest in the event of another fire.

“We do not take this decision lightly, but this is the best choice for public safety,” regional forester Jennifer Eberlien said in a release. “It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”

California State Parks followed suit, fully closing seven state parks and partially closing three others.

A red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service forecast extremely dry conditions and 35 mph wind gusts that will persist through Wednesday evening, exacerbating already challenging firefighting conditions.

On Monday, the fire entered the Lake Tahoe basin, an area that’s home to tens of thousands of people and welcomes millions of visitors as a summer and winter vacation destination.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) expanded its evacuation orders Monday to include all of South Lake Tahoe, where about 22,000 people live.

Videos showed miles-long lines of traffic as people sought to escape.

“There is fire activity in California that we have never seen before,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said in a press briefing on Monday. The fire chief noted that the Caldor fire had shown an “unprecedented” spread of more than 20,000 acres on Sunday.

“Every acre can and will burn in this state,” the fire chief warned. “Be ready now.”

Residents are stuck in traffic Monday as they attempt to evacuate while the Caldor fire approaches South Lake Tahoe, California.
Residents are stuck in traffic Monday as they attempt to evacuate while the Caldor fire approaches South Lake Tahoe, California.
JOSH EDELSON via Getty Images
A chairlift at Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort sits idle Monday as the Caldor fire moves through the Twin Bridges, California, area.
A chairlift at Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort sits idle Monday as the Caldor fire moves through the Twin Bridges, California, area.
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

More than a dozen large fires were burning across the state Monday, with over 15,000 firefighters working to stop them.

The multiple fires burning throughout Northern California in recent weeks have caused unhealthful levels of smoke throughout the region.

The human-caused climate crisis has worsened wildfires in California in recent years. Four out of the five largest fires in state history took place last year alone in a record-breaking year for fires in the state. This year has already surpassed last year’s in terms of the number of acres burned by blazes by this time of year.

The Dixie fire, currently burning in Northern California, is now the second largest in state history. And the Caldor fire marks only the second time in California history that a wildfire crossed the Sierra Nevada, according to Cal Fire’s chief — the first was the Dixie fire just weeks ago.

August is only the beginning of the usual wildfire season in California.