Update 10: p.m.: Angora fire continuous coverage | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Update 10: p.m.: Angora fire continuous coverage

Jeff Munson, William Ferchland, Susan Wood, Adam Jensen, Patrick McCartney, Megg Mueller

Phil Wooley, Nevada Appeal

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) ” Firefighters racing the weather for control of a turbulent wildfire near Lake Tahoe got a bit of a break Wednesday as high winds forecast to arrive held off, giving crews time to shore up their defenses.

Hundreds of firefighters tried to tame the three-day-old blaze on two fronts ” near the small town of Meyers, just south of here, and on the edge of several densely populated subdivisions near the lake itself, where another flank jumped a containment line a day earlier.

While forecasters still warned that the wind may pick up in the evening, the day of calm allowed firefighters to fortify their lines, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said.

“The worst-case scenario is the fire would break out in multiple locations,” said Rich Hawkins, a Forest Service fire commander. “The biggest problem is just that there are so many homes in a combustible environment.”

The governors of the two states Lake Tahoe straddles, California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nevada’s Jim Gibbons, toured neighborhoods where the wildfire had already destroyed more than 200 homes and other buildings.

Examining the remains of a house in the Tahoe Mountain neighborhood, just outside South Lake Tahoe, the ex-bodybuilder Schwarzenegger hoisted a dumbbell from the debris, marveling that it was one of the few objects to survive. “Amazing,” he told an aide.

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Little else survived the inferno. Metal mattress coils, a bicycle, tools, half-melted televisions, concrete foundations and chimneys were about all that was left of the burned houses. Some neighboring buildings stood virtually untouched.

“It could have been much worse, if we hadn’t had such well-trained firefighters,” said Schwarzenegger, mentioning his decision in May to free up more money for firefighters and equipment after the dry winter.

The El Dorado County sheriff’s department estimated the total property damage at $141 million. That figure does not include the cost of repairing downed power lines and other damage to the infrastructure.

In all, about 3,500 people have been evacuated, according to statistics relayed to the visiting governors.

At a news conference, Schwarzenegger and other elected officials faced angry questions from reporters and residents about whether a regional planning agency’s strict rules against clearing brush and debris from private property had hampered efforts to protect homes from fire.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a joint Nevada-California entity charged with protecting the Lake Tahoe environment and water quality, has been heavily criticized. But Schwarzenegger sidestepped the questions and denounced “fingerpointing” at a time when firefighters and government officials were trying to save hundreds of homes.

Schwarzenegger also signed an executive order suspending replacement fees for those who lost personal records such as drivers licenses or vehicle registration documents to the fire. He also asked state tax authorities to grant extensions to those affected, and to consider waiving penalties.

Hundreds of homes within view of the lake remained under mandatory evacuation orders, while residents of the already damaged areas toured by Gibbons and Schwarzenegger were still being asked to stay away as part of a voluntary evacuation.

But many returned ” at least long enough to stuff more belongings into cars and trucks before leaving again. Others came back and camped out, readying garden hoses and even buckets to douse embers expected to land nearby if winds kicked up as expected.

The blaze has charred more than 3,000 acres ” about 4.7 square miles ” and was 55 percent contained. One minor injury was reported Wednesday, when a firefighter’s hand was broken by falling boulder.

Fire officials were still predicting the fire would be contained by next Tuesday. Whether that date changes “depends on how well things hold together today and tomorrow,” Efird said.

With stiffer gusts still in the forecast, officials acknowledged that more homes, including some in the most affluent waterfront neighborhoods, could be threatened. Several officials said the wind could also present a danger to firefighters themselves.

“It really is hard to predict what these winds are going to do,” said Kelly Martin, a fire behavior analyst who addressed hundreds of firefighters from across the state Wednesday.

Officials thought they had a handle on the blaze Tuesday, but a surprisingly big gust in the afternoon was all it took to push firefighters off the line they had held for more than a day outside a 300-home subdivision.

The blaze descended so quickly that two firefighters were forced to deploy the emergency shelters they carry to protect themselves as a last resort.

Without the shelters, the men would have died, but they managed to walk away uninjured, Hawkins said.

Authorities ruled Wednesday that the fire was caused by human activity, but said the exact cause remained under investigation. They have said there’s no indication it was set intentionally.

“Is it a cigarette, a campfire or some other cause? We don’t know,” Hawkins said.

Fire investigators interviewed around 10 witnesses believed to be among the first to spot the blaze as it whipped up from a popular jogging and hiking path about seven miles southwest of the lake.

Forest Service spokeswoman Beth Brady, a member of the four-person group leading the investigation, said they were confident they’d isolated the spot where the first spark landed. But after the fire flared again Tuesday afternoon, they delayed an expected announcement about the cause and decided to double-check their findings against eyewitness accounts.

“It’s important that we follow up on every lead and verify our findings,” Brady said.

Farther south, more than 1,400 firefighters were working a blaze in Kern County, about 80 miles north of Los Angeles.

The 10,700-acre fire was 50 percent contained Wednesday and moving slowly despite 15-25 mph winds and only 12 percent humidity. Two buildings had been damaged by the flames, but no homes were threatened on Wednesday, said Mike Mohler, a state fire spokesman.

“We’re just trying to work with the weather right now,” he said. “It slopped over the line a little bit last night … but right now, things are looking good.”

“””

Associated Press Writers Scott Lindlaw, Joe Mullin, Aaron C. Davis, Amanda Fehd and Robert Jablon contributed to this report.

The high winds expected this afternoon haven’t materialized. Crews are catching a break as they attempt to shore up defenses against the Angora blaze, according to the Associated Press.

While forecasters were still expecting the wind to pick up later in the day, the extra few hours of calm allowed firefighters to fortify their lines, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said.

Tribune sports editor Steve Yingling lost his home on the first day of the Angora fire. He felt fortunate that his sons, 14-year-old Conner and 15-year-old Jordan, were able to pack a few prized possessions before fleeing Sunday as the wildfire approached their Cone Road residence.

But as the boys left their South Lake Tahoe home, the family’s elderly cat, Kit Cat, bolted out the front door and darted away. The black cat had been part of the Yingling family since the boys were toddlers, surviving more than a dozen years in an area where coyotes and owls often prey on domestic pets.

“She was scared,” Yingling said on Wednesday. “We felt bad that we left her behind.”

Returning to the gutted residence Tuesday, Yingling said his hopes were raised by the survival of a home at the nearby corner of Cone and Boulder Mountain. All six homes on Cone were destroyed.

“Then I heard a noise at the base of the chimney, where a metal damper is,” Yingling said. “She stuck her nose out. She looked like she was dazed from smoke inhalation.”

Kit Cat was frisky enough to come out of her hiding place and approach the Yinglings. Her paws were burned, but apart from that, the 15-year-old feline seemed little worse for the wear.

Yingling figured the cat sought refuge at the uncharred home on the corner.

“She’s a survivor,” Yingling said.

The Lake Tahoe Humane Society is assisting pets and their human companions during the Angora fire crisis.

The Society is ready to match foster homes with pet owners who have been evacuated.

The Society will provide financial aid for veterinary care of pets injured from fire conditions.

The Society has a current need for dog crates with doors, and towels, small litter pans or the equivalent. Call about other special needs.

The Society also has instant ID tags for cats and dogs. They can be used for a temporary phone contact.

To donate or pick up pet supplies, come by 1221 Emerald Bay Road.

To contact the Society, call 542-2857.

At a 1 p.m. news conference in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Executive Director John Singlaub addressed residents’ concerns that the TRPA interfered with efforts to clear dry brush and trees. Listen below to hear what he had to say.

– A Public Meeting is is scheduled for Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. at the South Lake Tahoe Middle School, 2870 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

– The County Sheriff has established an Evacuation Re-Entry hot line with information at (530) 573-7966

– For current evacuation and re-entry information visit

– For preliminary list of lost or damaged structures visit

Wildland Fire

Under Investigation

06/24/2007 at 1410 hrs.

West of South Lake Tahoe

Rich Hawkins

1,809

3,100 acres

44% percent

07/03/2007 at hrs.

Heavy Timber with large dead and down component

Fire behavior was light last operational period. Some active burning was observed in Divisions E and D.

Control line was reestablished in Div-E and Div-D. Crews continued to hold and mopup. Line improvement was continued in Divisions S and V with light activity in these Divisions. A mandatory evacuation remains in effect for the communities South of Highway 89. A road closure will remain in effect for Highway 89 at the Highway 50 Junction.

Structure protection will continue in threatened communities in preparation for predicted wind event. Continue line improvement in all Divisions. Patrol and Mopup to a depth of 200 feet. Crews will continue to remove potentially dangerous snags. divisions.

12 hours: No forward progression is expected.

High

07/03/07

The Angora Incident remains in a Unified Command.

Not available

n.a.

55 percent

At a 1 p.m. news conference in South Lake Tahoe, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised firefighters on the front lines of the Angora Fire and assured visitors that it is still safe to come to Lake Tahoe.

State officials estimated the damage at $150 million so far in the fire that has blackened more than 3,000 acres of forest and destroyed more than 200 homes.

Sharing the stage with Lt. Governor John Garamendi, Schwarzenegger said efforts to bring in state and federal funds are well under way. But the governor, just returned from a European visit, emphasized that firefighters battling the wildfire are ready for whatever comes.

“We are aware of all the dangers (the firefighters) face,” Schwarzenegger said. “But (the fire) is in great hands. They are the best trained, greatest firefighters.”

He also put in a word for potential tourists to the Tahoe Basin.

“Right now, it’s safe to come here. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner addressed the problem of underinsured homeowners, citing the experience of property owners who suffered losses in the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego.

“Review your homeowner’s insurance today,” Poizner said. “Keep it up to date. Have an inventory done in advance, a video or photo record of your belongings.”

Reporters at the conference relayed concerns from some residents that bureaucratic hurdles by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency had thwarted the efforts of homeowners to clear trees and brush from their property.

John Singlaub, the bistate agency’s executive director, responded by saying the agency has long made fire protection a high priority.

“We have been working on fuel treatment and defensible space for decades,” Singlaub said. “Some neighbors here have had trees cut, and had the Lake Valley Fire Department come out and mark trees.”

Singlaub said the agency is exploring additional fuels-treatment, and then acknowledged the anger directed at the agency by some basin residents.

“Emotions are running high; people are angry,” Singlaub said. “They want somebody to blame, and we’re an easy target.”

Garamendi, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor who declared the Angora fire an emergency while Schwarzenegger was out of the country, said he “fully expects” the federal government to declare the Tahoe Basin a federal emergency.

Federal funds would not be available to individual homeowners, although Small Business Administration loans would be available, he said. The state is already documenting its expenses, which could be reimbursed by the federal government, Garamendi said.

Schwarzenegger said local, state and federal officials are already cooperating in a response to the wildfire. He stressed the importance of clearing the dead trees the Angora fire will leave behind.

“The most important thing is to learn from this,” Schwarzenegger said.

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has said damage assessment and a fraud enforcement teams are at work on the Angora fire. Damage estimates top $150 million.

“We are on the lookout for scammers,” he said. “When we find them we’re going to come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

Poizner said that with every natural disaster unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors prey on victims. Residents are urged to call 1 (800) 927-HELP if they think they are being victimized.

For more information, visit the insurance commission Web site at: .

A small forest fire that flared up in heavy timber just outside of the Kingswood subdivision in Kings Beach was quickly contained using helicopters and an airplane that flew over from the Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe.

The 1.5-acre fire still produced a column of smoke that could be seen around the North Shore before it was doused by the aircraft and local firefighters.

“We were able to get a lot of resources on it quickly,” said North Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Duane Whitelaw. “Normally it could take 40 minutes.”

A U.S. Forest Service investigator was on the way to the fire on Wednesday morning to analyze the scene, said Whitelaw.

The fire has been deemed “suspicious” because no lightning or other natural fire starters were observed or known to be in the area.

The firefighters quick response was even more urgent today, when winds are supposed to kick up in the afternoon and create “red flag” warning conditions.

“We’re all on pins and needles,” said Whitelaw.

For those wishing to help there are several organizations and businesses that are accepting donations throughout the Tahoe-Reno area to help families displaced by the Angora fire. for complete, updated information about local businesses and agencies helping those in need.

Also: , located at 3079 Harrison Ave., in South Lake Tahoe, is a donation site for food, water, clothing, toiletries, blankets and more. People affected by the fire are welcome to come to the ‘s office to receive items of need.

El Dorado County Animal Control officers continue to assist with animal evacuations from the Angora fire near South Lake Tahoe. Some of the animals have been reunited with their owners.

In conjunction with animal rescue groups, Animal Control is in need of a variety of supplies for animals in the shelters. Supplies can be dropped off at 1120 Shakori Drive in South Lake Tahoe or behind Sierra Animal Hospital at 3095 Highway 50/Lake Tahoe Boulevard, where a shelter is temporarily located.

The following items are requested from the community:

– Dry dog/cat food

– Food dishes

– Cat harnesses

– Basic sponges

– 10×13 aluminum foil pans (litter boxes)

– Duct tape

– Zip ties

– Plastic grocery bags

– Timothy Hay (for rabbits)

For more information regarding sheltering or retrieving pets, contact El Dorado County Animal Control Shelter at (530) 577-1766. Due to a large number of calls, Animal Control is requesting that the public please be patient when requesting information and/or services.

National Weather Service report as of 1 p.m.

Lake wind advisory, high wind red-flag warnings are in effect now through 9 p.m. Wind speeds at 1 p.m. were coming from the north at 8 mph, temperature is 73 degrees, visibility is 4 miles. Winds are expected to pick up around 2 p.m. and will gust in a southwesterly direction. Wind speeds could range from 15 mph in town to 35 mph on ridge tops.

Also: The , located at 3079 Harrison Ave., in South Lake Tahoe, is a donation site for food, water, clothing, toiletries, blankets and more. People affected by the fire are welcome to come to the ‘s office to receive items of need.

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