South Lake Tahoe residents ordered to evacuate

KCRA, a Sacramento news station, reports: Evacuation orders were issued Monday for all of South Lake Tahoe after expanded evacuations the night before as the massive Caldor Fire in El Dorado County experienced a “rapid spread,” Cal Fire said.

Esri has a map here. The fire is very close to houses and businesses.


48 thoughts on “South Lake Tahoe residents ordered to evacuate”

  1. A significant portion of the Caldor Fire—the cause of which is still under investigation—has burned through this very heavily logged, clearcut, and roaded landscape.

    • The fire burned ~33 miles since the fire started on Aug. 10. It burned logged and unlogged areas — and as Larry will tell you, there have been no clearcuts there for decades. It burned old fire areas, too, and areas where there’s been no fire in a long time. And a ski resort. FWIW, I worked and lived in the area in the 1980s.

      • Wildfire Today offers this item at the end of “Will the fuels reduction completed near South Lake Tahoe help protect homes from the Caldor Fire?” by Bill Gabbert:

        “In a live briefing Sept. 3 about the Caldor Fire near South Lake Tahoe, California, East Side Incident Commander Rocky Oplinger complimented the land owners and managers for the fuel treatments that have been accomplished over the years. He said the 150-foot flame lengths dropped to about 15-feet when the fire entered the treated areas. This allowed hand crews and engines to take an aggressive approach to suppress the fire and prevent structure loss. The video of the briefing is on Facebook; Mr. Oplinger’s comments about the fuel treatments begin at 34:10.”

          • Yes, and the anecdote Gabbert provided show that fuel treatments are key, too, as “150-foot flame lengths dropped to about 15-feet when the fire entered the treated areas.”

            • Steve,

              Do you believe the timber industry should issue a public apology for doing this to the forests around South Lake Tahoe? Do you think the federal land management agencies should also issue a public apology? Do you think members of the public should seek reparations from the timber industry?


              • Matthew, how are your questions relevant to a post on the effectiveness of fuels treatments in the Caldor Fire area? The answer is that they aren’t relevant, given the intensity of the fire and the winds that drove it. So far, the vast majority of the Caldor Fire acres have been on federal land, where clearcutting ended 30 years ago and where forest health work has dominated since then — thinning, leaving the largest trees — and fuels reduction. Larry, remind us of the diameter limit on Sierra Nevada national forests.

                Your comments are especially irrelevant in the Tahoe basin, where collaborative restoration efforts have been under way for years. Read about the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team Releases Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Action Plan. I would guess that you and your organization would be opposed to this plan.


                LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. –The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (TFFT), a coalition of Lake Tahoe federal, tribal, state, and local entities, today issued a comprehensive Forest Action Plan to protect the health and safety of the Lake Tahoe Basin’s forests, communities, and visitors. Fire safety and forest health is the major theme of tomorrow’s 23rd annual Lake Tahoe Summit, where host Senator Dianne Feinstein will be joined by California Governor Gavin Newsom, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, and other elected officials and Basin leaders.

                “The Lake Tahoe Basin is extremely vulnerable to wildfire,” said North Tahoe Fire Protection District Fire Chief Michael Schwartz. “To protect our residents and visitors and the health of our forests, this Plan is focused at every level: from our homes and businesses to our shoreline communities, evacuation routes, powerline corridors, and scenic ridgetops.”

                The Forest Action Plan integrates the work of nearly two dozen conservation, land management, and fire agencies. It is built upon a three-tiered strategy: 1) expand the pace and scale of restoration through landscape-scale projects that cover all ownerships; 2) build greater capacity for these efforts by expanding the workforce, strategically using prescribed fire, and supporting markets for biomass and small diameter trees; and 3) leverage new technology, including high resolution satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to map forest structure and wildfire risk.

                “Our forests in the Tahoe Basin are under increasing stress from our changing environment. In response, agencies have undertaken and are implementing landscape-scale initiatives to restore forest health and increase resilience around the Basin,” said Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais. “This Forest Action Plan has galvanized our continued commitment to increasing the pace and scale of restoration across all ownerships.”

                The TFFT was established in the aftermath of the Angora Fire, which destroyed 254 homes in 2007. The TFFT partners have since thinned or safely burned with prescribed fire over 57,000 acres in the wildland-urban interface–those areas where homes are located near or among lands prone to wildland fire. The key goals of the Plan are to complete work on the remaining 22,000 most vulnerable acres, to achieve and maintain defensible space for nearly 100 percent of homes and businesses, and to improve the health and resilience of the Basin’s forested landscapes.

                Download the Forest Action Plan [PDF]


                • Excuse me, Steve? The image shows the landscape that has just burned in the Caldor fire. The very landscape that the Caldor fire ripped through as it built up a head of steam toward South Lake Tahoe. The image shows how some of the Caldor fire landscape was treated by the timber industry (and in some cases federal and state agencies) in years and decades past. I bet some timber industry folks claimed the logging was also “fuels reduction.” Anyway I can see why you want to believe otherwise, but please don’t lecture me about relevance. Thanks.

                  • Matthew, if you’ll read the abstract to “Fuel treatment effectiveness in the context of landform, vegetation, and large, wind-driven wildfires,” which I mentioned in a post a few minutes ago, the authors write that, “Although fuel reduction treatments are used to mitigate potential wildfire effects, they can be overwhelmed in wind-driven wildfire events with extreme fire behavior.” Plantations can be overwhelmed, too, as can old-growth spotted owl habitat. The Caldor Fire is wind-driven wildfire event with extreme fire behavior. The areas in the image you showed were irrelevant to the intensity and spread of the Caldor Fire.

                    • Gee Steve, some of us have been saying that fuel reduction treatments can be overwhelmed in wind-driven wildfire events with extreme fire behavior for about 20 years now. Since you’re apparently now the self-appointed irrelevant czar here on the blog you likely will have your hands full with many different posts and many different comments from many different folks. Good luck with that.

                    • I’m a czar of nothing, bit I am persistent. The Caldor Fire is a high-intensity fire and the plantations in the photo had no significant influence on fire intensity or rate of spread.

    • Based on the Caldor fire perimeter on 8/30/2021 @ 179k acres: 3% (5,364 ac) of land area burned in a fire in the last 10 years and 6% (10,797 ac) received some type of mechanical treatment in the past 10 years. 9% (16,162) of the burnable land area (excluding lakes, rock, ice, etc.) received some type of disturbance within the past 10 years.

        • I did a quick GIS analysis of the perim from yesterday using the LANDFIRE disturbance layer (FDIST). It was updated through the end of 2020 and pulls from a range of data sources – fires from MTBS, GeoMAC, etc., and mechanical from FACTS, NFPORS, and satellite detection (private).

    • Does anyone (industry or otherwise) point to clearcutting as a fuels treatment? My understanding is it is used to minimize costs and maximize revenues for a harvest entry, as well as allow spacing and stocking control post-harvest. SPI also treats its acres with dedicated shaded fuel breaks, those are what you ought to be judging. Pointing to burned plantations is no more definitive than pointing to the large mature fir stands burning in Lassen NP as we speak.

      • I will give you my management opinion; clearcut were the choice of last resort. Stands that were too diseased, too high graded, too far gone in terms of actually making it another 20 years.

        I’ve prescribed probably thousands of acres over my career, but always, ALWAYS toward the benefit of a future stand, never for the economics of harvesting.

        If a clearcut was designed for fuels management (for whatever reason), it would probably be a conversion from timber to perpetual open ground, which could be beneficial in some WUI situations.

    • The image might look different if there hadn’t been a stand-replacing fire in the mid-70s. And, of course, when there is a checker-boarded land management arrangement, forests do get ‘fragmented’. Hey, why not blame the infernal iron horse, too? On Forest Service lands, clearcutting is a NON-ISSUE. Blaming Federal forest issues on private logging practices is all the preservationists have left in their ‘blame game’.

  2. A good example of never being able to agree on logging and fuels management for modifying fire behavior; “but it was logged 35 years ago and it burned through it”.

    The once and done method of fuels work went out the window in the 1990’s, it’s time to begin teaching the public on “canopy bulk densities” and “return reentry interval”.

    Thinning will not modify intense fires. About the only way to affect canopy bulk density is to cut the s&#% out of the standing volume, then remove the biomass, whether activity created, or existing. Restoration cuts near WUI (between the shaded fuel breaks and the general forest) shaded fuel breaks along the WUI and managed timber stands within 3 miles (general forest) of the WUI!

    Then, return reentry interval based on existing conditions. Oh, and that concept of closing roads to a one-mile open per section? Forget about it; if you can’t reach quick fire starts, they will run….

  3. Back in 1990, I worked on this helicopter salvage unit, which was riddled with bark beetles. Echo Summit is on the far right and Sierra At Tahoe ski area is at the far left. The fire burned through here yesterday, but I’m sure that fire intensity was reduced from salvaging hundreds of dead and dying trees. There are no clearcuts close by (unless you count ski runs). Of course, the ski runs didn’t stop the flames, either. I had hope that the head of the fire could be steered into Desolation Wilderness, but the fire pushed into one of the few parts of the Ranger District that didn’t see any salvage logging in the past. It ran for 2.5 miles that day, into the ski area.

    The mid-70s Pilliken Fire took a similar path, only stopping under Eagle Rock. That was the biggest fire on the RD through recorded history. Today, you could fit 4 Pilliken Fires inside the Caldor Fire.

    There will be plenty of opportunities to study the aftermath, as the fire burned through different kinds of forests. I’m also watching the southeast corner of the fire, burning into my last thinning project. It seems to be holding, in that particular spot. It shows on Inciweb as being burned on the fire’s edge… currently.,-120.33187,287m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

    • Back in the early 1980s, I helped mark timber for creating new ski runs at Sierra At Tahoe. Those runs will look a bit different now.

    • There definitely is some crazy spotting going on and those may be caused by spotting but I don’t think you can interpret that map necessarily as spotting. The red dots represent VIRS satellite heat detection. The perimeter is periodically updated based on those VIRS detections and on the ground field/flight mapping.

        • I think they are showing fire and I don’t mean to nitpick but I wanted to point out that the dots are rough (375m) VIIRS satellite detections that record abnormal surface temperature. They could have gotten there from a new ignition, spotting, or from the arrival of the main flamming front.
          The VIIRS maps along with ‘Fire Containment’ are something that I think is often misinterpreted. Fire containment is virtually meaningless and not based on any measurable metrics but more on how risk-averse the IC is and how likely they think some of their resources will be diverted to another incident.

  4. FWIW, if anyone is interested, this 2020 study, “Fuel treatment effectiveness in the context of landform, vegetation, and large, wind-driven wildfires,” be Susan J. Prichard et al, offers some perspective. It’s behind a pay wall, but here’s a bit from the abstract:

    “All treatment areas burned with higher proportions of moderate and high-severity fire during early fire progressions, but thin and underburn, underburn only, and past wildfires were more effective than thin-only and thin and pile burn treatments. Treatment units had much greater percentages of unburned and low severity area in later progressions that burned under milder fire weather conditions, and differences between treatments were less pronounced. Our results provide evidence that strategic placement of fuels reduction treatments can effectively reduce localized fire spread and severity even under severe fire weather. ”

    • Maybe the word “localized” is important here. It suggests to me that your best bet is to treat close to what you want to protect. Or does it mean something else?

      • “Protect” is also one of those funny words that can mean different things. I wonder how many spotted owl PACs were severely impacted by wildfires in the last 10 years in California. How really ‘Protected’ were they?

        I guess we’ll see a new issue come up, from the huge fires versus the owls. Usually, a burned owl PAC would be abandoned if it can no longer function, replaced by the best and most suitable available habitat. On the Placerville RD, will there be any “suitable habitat” left to designate? Will that “suitable habitat” be thinned stands that survived the fire well?

  5. For whatever it’s worth, last night I watched a new video from “The Lookout: Talking Wildfire” that included a video about “burn severity” of the Caldor Fire, and asked “Where did the fire burn hottest?”

    According to The Lookout, it looks like some parts of the Caldor Fire burned hottest in this location, a fairly remote part of the landscape that was pretty hammered by past management activities, including industrial logging, clearcutting, and roadbuilding.

    • You refuse to mention that a big chunk of the Ranger District was burned in the Pilliken Fire, back in the 70’s. You also don’t mention the catastrophic bark beetle infestation from 1989 to 1992. There has been no clearcutting or “industrial logging” since 1992.

      Finally, have YOU ever been to the Eldorado National Forest? ….. (I thought so)

      Applying spin to a wildfire that is still burning is ridiculous. Currently, the ‘annual cut’ there is 1/13th of the levels of the 80s. For four years, the ‘annual cut’ was actually at 1/30th of those 80s levels.

      Blaming the timber industry for this wildfire is just as dumb as blaming environmentalists for this wildfire.

  6. I live in Tahoe. I’ve been shocked at the “management activities” prescribed by the Tahoe Basin Management Plan:

    Right now there are an estimated 750,000 slash piles that have been left derelict in the basin, including many thousands right alongside and within the urban interface.

    The problem with these practices is multifold, but one of the worst is that these slash piles aren’t removed in a timely fashion, or at all. How does conducting an incomplete process improve the resilience of these forests or make them lost prone to high-intensity fires? It doesn’t.

    At the outset of this fire, I spoke with the new Douglas County, NV Fire Chief, Scott Lindgren. During our conversation, which took place at a Caldor Fire Informational Kiosk outside the Round Hill Safeway, he told me he’d left his position at the Forest Service in part because of their non-sensical forest management practices, going so far as to describe the slash piles strewn all over the basin as “fire jackpots.”

    Another firefighter I spoke with in the week following the lifting of the evacuation order confided to me that it was only a shift in the wind a luck that has saved the town of South Lake Tahoe. Even though he was a member of the Zephyr Crew that was tasked with performing the thinning and slash-pile-accumulating actions that have destroyed the near-town forests, he admitted that if even a single ember had found a home in one of the ten thousand burn piles within and around my town, we would have lost the entire city.

    Worse, the California Tahoe Conservancy and the Basin Management Unit of the USFWS don’t even follow the PTEIR plan that is supposed to guide how the forests are managed here.

    The plan dictates mechanical removal of chipping of an fuels where practical, and requires that any slash left in burn piles is removed within two years of creation. Further, the plan specifies that in addition to thinning and slash pile removal, that regular understory burns are performed.

    The problem is that even where slash piles have been created right alongside roads, they aren’t chipped or removed. Instead they sit for years, sometimes even decades. If we’re lucky they’re burned, but in no portion of the basin where I’ve traveled (and I’ve hiked over 5000 miles within the basin forests in the last decade) have they conducted any of the additional management activities beyond cutting down trees, stacking them into bonfire piles, and occasionally setting them alight. And, in many cases, when they do get around to removing these piles, they create small canopy fires by accident.

    The reality is that they way these forests are being managed today, it’s worse than no management at all. From my perspective as a Tahoe resident, it’s only a matter of time before a lone ember hits a “jackpot” and every house and business in Tahoe will discover what an unlucky game USFWS and the California Tahoe Conservancy have been playing with the woods in and around our town.

    • Ummm, the Fish and Wildlife Service has little to nothing to do with fuels and slash piles in the Tahoe Basin. Yes, there is a massive fuels build-up around Lake Tahoe, but plenty of that came from the drought of the early 90’s, and so much beetle mortality that wasn’t remedied. I do understand the ‘heartburn’ over unburned slash piles. The Forest Service needs to do better, despite their excuses.

  7. Larry, you’re right about one thing, USFWS is not involved in forestry. That’s simply a typo. I know it’s the California Tahoe Conservancy co-administering the plan with the Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the US Forest Service.

    • I would recommend going to the next public meeting concerning fuels projects, and expressing your concerns, in person. Bring pictures! Those are valid concerns, in my opinion. With today’s technology, the Forest Service could take GPS coordinates of every pile in every project. Sure, it would be a ‘hassle’ for those people to collect and map that data, but it is important to have the promised outcomes, envisioned by the projects’ plans.

      • I have created waypoints for many of the new piles that they’ve left sitting near town over the last three years. The number, density, and inability to remove these piles without causing the adjacent trees to burn or become scorched should alarm everyone in the basin.

        I’ve tried to get our local newspapers to look into this issue but they’re intimidated by the California Tahoe Conservancy as well as the Forest Service up here. And yes, I have hundreds of photos and videos and have even documented where they’ve tried to remediate piles and caused canopy fires.

        I also took the time to meet with the Conservancy’s land manager, Milan Yeates. We walked the current project taking place in the conservancy lands as well as Van Sickle State Park. I was incredibly surprised to learn that the only metric they care about is trees per acre. To me, this seems to be incredibly unsophisticated. Why, for example, are they cutting down healthy trees that are 30 inches in diameter with the lowest limbs over 30 feet up? Why would they be cutting down highly fire-resistant tree species like Incense Cedar? And why would they not try to replicate the growth patterns of natural forests where trees grow in clumps with empty areas between? It seems senseless to remove 1/3 of the trees without regard to any of these factors.

        Further, their failure to follow their CEQA-exempted PTEIR seems to me to be a violation of the plan and thus, grounds to seek an injunction against further management activities until they begin to remove the existing piles before continuing to create new ones.

        If you have other recommendations, I’m all ears. Our basin woodlands have value. It is habitat for the myriad non-human species that live around the lake, the woods have aesthetic value for people like me that have spent thousands of hours in these forests.

        I was under the impression that all these government and NGO organizations have an obligation to conduct their planning and implementation based upon the best available science, yet even within the PTEIR, it’s clear current science is being ignored in favor of dogma that the plan itself states is at best questionable in its efficacy.

        • Thanks for sharing your knowledge, personal experience, and some additional context about this landscape and what’s taking place, Oliver.

        • “Why would they be cutting down highly fire-resistant tree species like Incense Cedar?”

          Actually, incense-cedar is extremely susceptible to crown fires, unless they are large and ancient. They tend to hold on to branches that act as perfect ladder fuels. Even the green foliage is extremely-flammable.

          Regarding ‘clumps and gaps’, a Forest Service GTR has recommended the clumps and gaps strategy to be imported into USFS thinning projects in the Sierra Nevada. I have personally created some clumps and gaps, within thinning units, on the Eldorado NF. I do like how the clumps worked out. I’m not really a fan of making gaps bigger, though.

            • I think I would be finding a lawyer, if all other avenues are closed. If those piles are close to homes, they need to be dealt with. On the other hand, many parts of the Tahoe Basin are just giant slash piles, anyway, caused by the bark beetles of the 90’s. There is also organized opposition to burning of any kind. And, some have even proposed that burning be done in the summer months, too (due to smoke impacts). It may take court action to prioritize the goals.

            • In my case, some of those gaps were ‘lava caps’, where trees struggle to grow at all. I guess they make decent ‘natural’ fuelbreaks, but are we reversing decades of soils development? (If that ridge is ‘strategic’ for fire mitigation, then sure, nibble around the edges.)

              I do know that some other units don’t utilize these ideas into their thinning projects. Especially if they contract out for their timber services.


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