Art from ashes: Recovering from Caldor Fire a year later

A view of the Caldor Fire burn scar on Tuesday, Aug. 9, from U.S. Highway 50 at Echo Summit.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The Caldor Fire started one year ago this past Thursday, Aug. 14, near Little Mountain just south of Pollock Pines. The scar that remains is stretched across three counties El Dorado, Amador and Alpine.

Over the course of 67 days, 221,835 acres were scorched according to the Cal Fire incident report. Sadly, one life was also lost in the 15th largest fire in California’s history. Among the disfigured mountainsides were 1,003 structures destroyed and 81 damaged.

Officials say the fire’s ignition source was a spark created by discharging a firearm. Following an investigation, a father and son were arrested under suspicion of reckless arson. 

The South Shore of Lake Tahoe was evacuated shortly before the wildfire crested Echo Summit and entered the basin. This meant for the first time since the Angora Fire 15 years ago in June 2007, approximately 22,000 people were evacuated. With limited exit possibilities traffic came to a standstill for as much as three to five hours for some. Officials praised South Shore residents for packing up and getting out of town on short notice, even though the fire had marched towards South Lake Tahoe for two weeks prior.

For almost a month the fire was less than 50% contained. Two months uncertainty turned to gratitude for most in the basin, yet many on the West Slope came home to find a community asunder, only soot remained. But homes in the basin were spared due to passionate firefighting and home hardening efforts made by residents preparing for the summer wildfire season.

Local Tahoe artist, Shelley Zentner, shows how beauty can come from even the darkest devastation in a solo exhibit at Lake Tahoe Community College. Zentner is presenting “Call & Response: Visions of the Forest After Wildfire” from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17, to honor those impacted by the Caldor Fire. 

Flowers grow amongst burnt trees in the Caldor Fire scar
Provided/Anthony Cupaiuolo/First Tracks Productions

Community members and businesses within the Tahoe Basin came together during the time of the evacuation to feed the firefighters and support evacuees in any way they could. Despite the chaos and destruction that was left in its wake, the Caldor Fire positivity remains.

The forest is hard at work restoring itself, no small task “Some of the shrub species and other grass species are more fire-adapted, and they can come back quicker,” said Todd Ellsworth, a post-fire restoration program manager with the U.S. Forest Service. “The conifer trees don’t come back very quickly.”

To help the forest the Sugar Pine Foundation hosted several events from May to July to plant native western white pines and red fir seedlings. They now hold sapling watering events on a rotating schedule amongst their many valiant efforts.

West Slope Foundation and Better Together have committed to the long-term restoration of those impacted by providing Caldor Fire relief resources in events and distributions of resources over the past year. 

Flowers grow amongst burnt trees in the Caldor Fire scar.
Provided/Anthony Cupaiuolo/First Tracks Productions

On Aug. 21, at the Pioneer Elementary School ‘end of summer’ themed items will be distributed to those impacted by loss due to Caldor. For those who have had 50% or more loss are invited for priority entry from noon to 1 p.m. while general entry starts at 1 p.m. 

The Sunday event will also hold a resource fair from noon – 2 p.m. for those interested.

West Slope Foundation and Better Together both have opportunities listed on their website for those interested in donating.

Ashleigh Goodwin can be reached at

Burned stump and root hole to be repaired by volunteers
Don Bailey/Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.