Lake Tahoe Ski Resort Spraying Buildings, Grounds With Snow Machines as Caldor Fire Nears

The nation's largest wildfire continue burning through the Sierra Nevada region on Wednesday, as firefighters traveled by boat to contain the blaze now threatening 33,000 homes and structures around Echo Lake.

Lake Tahoe's largest ski resort, Heavenly Mountain, is now a staging area for the firefighters. The resort itself also tried to quell the flames with snow machines that at this time would be used for summer recreation.

Three miles south of South Lake Tahoe, now evacuated of residents and tourists, the fire was spreading northeast toward the border of California and Nevada, according to authorities.

"We lost the winds aloft," incident meteorologist Jim Dudley said. "It's a good day today to not have gusty winds up on the ridges. What we are going to have are terrain-driven winds" that happen as the sun heats the ground.

Caldor Fire
Heavenly Mountain, a ski resort in Lake Tahoe, is trying to quell the flames with snow machines. Above, Highway 50 is deserted as South Lake Tahoe is under mandatory evacuation due to the Caldor Fire on September 1 in South Lake Tahoe, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Better weather on Thursday helped the battle against a huge California forest fire threatening communities around Lake Tahoe, but commanders warned firefighters to keep their guard up against continuing dangers.

Strong winds that drove the Caldor Fire east through high elevations of the Sierra Nevada for days had faded after forcing thousands of people to flee, but very localized gusts were likely and the forest remained extremely dry even though humidity levels had improved slightly, officials said at a morning briefing.

The Caldor Fire covered more than 328 square miles and was 25 percent contained early Thursday. Its northeast tip was south of the city of South Lake Tahoe and nearing the California-Nevada state line.

Fire crews from around the country were joining the fight against the fire, which was just 23 percent contained after destroying at least 700 homes and other buildings since it broke out on August 14.

Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable, scientists have said.

Crews worked to keep flames away from urban communities, where houses are close together and shopping centers, hotels and other structures would provide even more fuel for the fire.

Thick smoke has enveloped South Lake Tahoe, which is all but deserted at a time when it would normally be swarming with tourists.

After casinos and stores closed on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe on Wednesday morning, evacuation holdouts who didn't have cars lined up outside the Montbleu resort and casino in Stateline, waiting for a bus to take them to Reno.

Kevin O'Connell, a disabled plumber and South Lake Tahoe resident wearing ski goggles to protect his eyes from blowing ash, had planned on staying and riding out the evacuation order in Stateline but found out that stores had closed.

"I called 911 and told them I need to get out of here—I have no food, no cigarettes and I'm disabled. And within a couple hours, the police came and picked me up in my apartment and brought me here," he said.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued a federal emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local resources for firefighting efforts and relief for residents in four counties affected by the fire.

More than 15,000 firefighters, with help from out-of-state crews, were battling dozens of California blazes, including another large blaze in the same area.

Major General David Baldwin, adjutant general of California, said the state has also deployed more than 1,000 National Guard soldiers, airmen and sailors and that 10 other states have sent around 1,250 additional Guard members.

Many of the guard units are providing air support, including 23 aircraft, some equipped with water buckets and others with systems that can drop fire retardant.

About 65 miles north of the Lake Tahoe–area blaze, the Dixie Fire is the second-largest wildfire in state history at about 1,320 square miles. The weeks-old fire prompted new evacuation orders and warnings this week and was just over 50 percent contained.

Lake Tahoe Fire Spreads
As of early Thursday, the Caldor Fire covered more than 328 square miles and was 25 percent contained. The Caldor Fire burns near homes near South Lake Tahoe, California, September 1. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo