Caldor Fire charging into Tahoe Basin

Rebecca O’Neil and Elias Funez
Special to the Tribune
A spot fire from the Caldor Fire establishes itself well in front of the head of the blaze Monday evening, causing issues for firefighters off of U.S. Highway 50 below the Echo Summit.
Photo: Elias Funez

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The Caldor Fire breached Echo Summit along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor on Monday evening in South Lake Tahoe.

Flames are coming down the side of the mountain and fire activity has also entered Christmas Valley and is burning on both sides of California State Route 89.

Wind conditions are creating spotting distances between three quarters of a mile to one mile.

The fire as of Monday night has burned 186,568 acres and is showing no signs of slowing down.

“The fire has gotten so big and active,” Caldor Fire Public Information Officer Dave Lauchner said. “We expected to get extreme fire behavior today.”

Over 600 structures have been lost to the Caldor Fire and thousands more are threatened.

Thousands of Tahoe residents fled from their homes Monday and thousands more have been put on warning in Douglas County, across the state line.

A shelter has been set up for Tahoe evacuees in Gardnerville at the Douglas County Community & Senior Center, in Carson City at the Carson City Community Center and in Truckee for those on the West Shore.

Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter described the Caldor Fire as a “real tough one” after reporting the flames’ 20,000-acre advance Sunday night.

“It’s burning heavy timber on the US 50 corridor between South Lake and Sacramento on difficult terrain and conditions to fight fire,” Porter said.

Porter said a phenomena known as atmospheric inversion, wherein the temperature increases with altitude instead of decreasing, “put a lid on fire activity.” The benefits are temporary, Porter said, so each time the air clears it looks like a plume of steam shot out from a kettle.

“It sucks in oxygen from all directions, and puts spot fires in all directions,” Porter said.

Erratic fire conditions in the Echo Summit area caused spot fires to spread in many directions causing issues for firefighters with some confirmed structure loss in the Echo Summit region.

“Our plan of attack is to defend those structures and stop spot fires,” Lauchner said, adding that spots are establishing themselves at a 90% ignition rate.

Firefighters wrap up control of a small spot fire off Highway 50, below Echo Summit.
Elias Funez
Firefighters stage along Highway 50, southwest of Myers.
Elias Funez

As of Monday evening, containment of the Caldor Fire is at 15%.

The Caldor and Dixie fires are the only two fires recorded in California history to span the Sierra from east to west.

“We haven’t had fires burn from one side of the Sierra to the other,” Thom Porter, head of Cal Fire, said in a Monday afternoon update from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “We did with Dixie, and now we do with the Caldor — we need to be cognizant that there is fire activity happening (here) that we have never seen before.”

A spot fire from the Caldor Fire begins to establish itself off Highway 50 below the Echo Summit Monday afternoon.
Elias Funez
Smoke from the Caldor Fire shrouds the setting sun in South Lake Tahoe on Monday.
Elias Funez

The National Weather Service in Reno extended its red flag warning an extra 24 hours, through Wednesday. Southwest wind gusts are expected to reach up to 50 mph on exposed terrain and ridgetops.

Smoke from the Caldor Fire settles over the casino region of South Lake Tahoe as people evacuate the area Monday.
Elias Funez

Barton Memorial Hospital has been evacuated and all services are closed through at least Friday, Sept 3. This includes Barton Urgent Care and the relocated Emergency Department.

If you are in a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

According to Barton Health Public Information Officer Mindi Befu, all patients at Barton Memorial Hospital have been or are in the process of being transferred to regional partner facilities. Families have been notified, and patients with upcoming appointments will be contacted.

“Our hearts are here with our community and everyone affected by this fire,” said Befu. “We extend our deep gratitude to the firefighters and first responders battling this blaze.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at

Elias Funez is a multimedia reporter with The Union. He can be reached at

The Union is a sister publication of the Tribune.

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