SOUTH LAKE TAHOE " A wind-whipped and spreading 500-acre forest fire at Lake Tahoe destroyed 50 homes on Sunday and threatened 500 others, a top U.S. Forest Service official confirmed.
Kit Bailey, the agency's fire chief for Lake Tahoe, said high winds were hampering fire crews in their battle against the fast-moving blaze and were a culprit in the property destruction.
Asked how fast the fire was growing, Bailey replied, "Let's just call it rapid rates of spread."
No injuries were reported.
The blaze in the upper Angora Creek drainage about five miles south of Lake Tahoe prompted evacuations of the Angora Lakes Resort and hundreds of homes in the North Upper Truckee Road area of Meyers, located next to the resort town of South Lake Tahoe, authorities said.
"I can't stay on the phone. We just got a notice to evacuate," said Gloria Hildinger of the Angora Lakes Resort. "The smoke is getting pretty thick. It's probably two miles away and we're hoping it won't reach here."
Flames were being fanned by winds of up to 25 mph, and the National Weather Service was calling for gusts of up to 35 mph on Sunday evening.
"They're definitely having problems with the winds up there," said Linda Curran of the Camino Interagency Dispatch Center in California. "The fire has a rapid rate of spread because of the winds."
At least five air tankers and two helicopters were assisting more than 400 firefighters on the ground.
The fire, believed to be caused by human activity, was reported at 2:14 p.m. Sunday on Forest Service land. The blaze is under investigation.
People who have been ordered evacuated are told that they can go to the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center on Rufus Allen. The command post for firefighters was moved to the Lake Tahoe Airport.
Reporter Susan Wood says one firefighter told her that up to 20 to 30 homes had been destroyed from his vantage point. It appears that three fires are simultaneously underway. Two of the fires appear to have been spawned by the initial fire, which started at around 2 p.m.
People have been driving frantically out of the area and others are running on foot. A motorcycle rider was seen getting off his bike and putting out a fire on a bank, Wood reported.
One man screamed "I've put three fires out already," Wood reports.
Outside agencies have been called in for help as the fire is moving fast and is being whipped by up to 35 mph winds. California Highway Patrol officers are leading the evacuations. At least six air tankers have been ordered on the fire, however, the wind has been a problem to have aircraft in the air, Faike said.
Witness Amanda Fehd, a Meyers resident, said the fire was very small and it grew within five minutes.
" It's growing. There are humongous billows....It is terrifying to everyone to see this," she said.
Tribune staffer Phillip Sublett, who made his way down Echo Summit reported that around 4 p.m. flames were visible from Highway 50 north of Echo Summit, with columns of brown-and-white smoke billowing up over the basin.
Traffic controls were in effect on Highway 50 in Meyers to make way for the large volume of vehicles leaving North Upper Truckee Road.