As residents flee from Caldor Fire, Meyers man stays
Special to the Tribune
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — South Lake Tahoe is practically empty after the Caldor Fire compelled most residents to depart the region — but a few remain.
On Wednesday afternoon, Joe Anderson was one of the holdouts. The Meyers resident has come close more than a few times to hopping in the truck and shipping out. He might still do so, but he remains at home for now.
“I’m sticking it out,” Anderson said by phone Wednesday. “I was ready to go probably five different times, but I just kind of hung out by the truck, hung in there. At one point I was really ready to go. A CalTrans crew came in with a slew of dozers and cut a fire line right behind my house. They put some hoselines on the ground, so I felt pretty confident about staying. Worst comes to worst, they told me to grab a hose line of theirs. More effective than a garden hose.”
Anderson says he had eight kids born “under this roof,” and one of his grandkids.
“It’s really hard going,” he said. “So hard to leave. If I didn’t feel pretty confident, I would not be here. But I’m close enough, 10 seconds off the highway, I can get out of here.”
Anderson is also a former firefighter, and a quarter century of knowledge about fire behavior lends him a little more peace that, for one, he’ll know when he really needs to bug out.
But even so, there’s plenty of fearful moments as the land he knows burns around him.
“I’ve been in this position many times,” Anderson said of his proximity to fire. “But it’s different when it hits so close to home — when it hits your backyard.”
Anderson doesn’t have a death wish. He’s just trying to give his home the best chance he can to make it through this catastrophe.
“It was real close a couple of times,” Anderson said. “I don’t know what told me to stay, but I decided to stay a little longer, and then things calmed down. I’m here. But I’m ready to go. Truck is packed, and if it comes to it, the fire ignites the house — I would probably fight it a little first, naturally, because of my background. But I would know when it’s time to go.”
Anderson said news crews covering the fires have been through a handful of times and many have told him he and one other are the only folks they’ve seen in town at all. He supposes about 99% or more have left.
“The other day I was an emotional wreck,” he said. “They were lighting a backfire out my back door, lit it and the whole forest just blew up. Fortunately it worked, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about backfires. When they work it’s great, when they don’t it’s terrible.”
Backfires, the former fireman explained, are a technique of wildfire suppression whereby crews intentionally light a smaller, hopefully controllable fire ahead of the path of the larger wildfire. It’s intended to eat up the fuel and help direct the main fire away from worse potential damage.
Anderson said he has six daughters in southern California, all wanting him to come down and be with them. But the travel feels a bit much.
“I know once I leave, who knows when I can get back,” he said. “I didn’t want to be away from home that long — however long it’ll be before they let evacuees back into the area. I’d rather be here.”
Cuyler Meade is a reporter for the Craig Daily Press in Colorado, a sister publication of the Tribune.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Fighting fire with fire sometimes goes bad.