Publication Date September 2, 2021

Tahoe Hangs On As Firefighters Blame Climate Change For Caldor Fire's Overwhelming Spread

The Caldor fire on August 26, 2021. Credit: Cal Fire

The normally bustling vacation town of South Lake Tahoe is deserted, while thousands of firefighters battle desperately to divert the raging Caldor fire away from more than 34,000 buildings around Lake Tahoe. A no-expense-spared effort to prevent the fire from entering the Lake Tahoe basin was overwhelmed by the raging inferno driven by high winds and supercharged by climate change.

"We can't control it," Cal Fire Division Chief Erich Schwab told reporters, of the fire burning as much as 200 feet per minute in some areas. "We don't have any tools out there to stop the fire so we resort to herding the fire away from structures and away from people."

Firefighters remain locked in a no-holds-barred battle to divert the Caldor Fire east toward land recently burned by the Tamarack Fire. Snow guns from nearby ski resorts were running at full power to dowse mountainsides and prevent the spread of the flames. Embers blown by the strong winds are the main cause of the fire's growth, with vegetation so dry that 90% of those embers ignite new spot fires.

Cal Fire's Chris Anthony said climate change has made the Caldor Fire difficult to control. “Historically, we’ve used terms such as ‘anomaly,’ ‘unprecedented’ or ‘extreme’ to describe the wildfires that we have seen burn throughout the state over the past 10 to 20 years,” he told reporters Monday evening. “These terms are no longer appropriate given the clear trends associated with drought, changing climate and un-resilient forest stands. Unfortunately, these factors contribute to the resistance to control that we are seeing with the Caldor fire.”

For some evacuees, the fires brought on a new layer of trauma. “I figured I would be safe in this city,” said South Lake Tahoe resident Darren Cobrae, whose Southern California home was burned by a wildfire in 2007, "and now this."

(San Francisco ChronicleBuzzfeedNew York Times $, CNNTahoe Daily TribuneSFGATEWashington Post $, APCBSUSA TodayBBCNBCTahoe Daily TribuneLA Times $, NPRCapital Public RadioCBS SacramentoThe GuardianWall Street Journal $, KCRA SacramentoABCCBS; Snow guns: SFGATE; Firefighting tactics: Sacramento Bee $; Photos: GizmodoBuzzfeedMercury News; Climate Signals background: 2021 Western wildfire seasonDrought)