Caldor Fire growth will depend on wind

Thomas Frey
Mountain Democrat
Rows of chairs are all that remain at Grizzly Flat Community Church.<em id="emphasis-4b0a1916c94fd2a640681da7886fa007"> (Eric Jaramishian / Mountain Democrat) </em>

A “fairly strong” southwest wind forecast for Saturday could push the Caldor Fire north, according to a Thursday night briefing from Eric Schwab, Cal Fire operations section chief.

“Obviously, I don’t like the sound of that,” Schwab said, “but if I had to have a 20-mile-an-hour wind, that’s the direction I would want it because it is again going to push the fire out into the forest with a lot less infrastructure there.”

Schwab added that high humidity would benefit the hundreds of firefighters working tirelessly to stop the blaze.

“If the humidity goes up, it slows fire behavior down,” Schwab said. “(It) allows us to get closer to the fire’s edge to work. So high humidity is beneficial to us.”

The Caldor Fire, which started in the Omo Ranch area Saturday and has since burned to the north and east clear up to Highway 50, hit 73,415 acres as of Friday morning and remains at 0% containment.

The fire grew 6,044 acres in about 24 hours.

Firefighters have been working the “heel” of the fire, the southwest end, to establish an anchor point they can build off to then flank both sides of the Caldor Fire with control lines.

In Grizzly Flat fire crews are still assigned to structure defense and “navigating the best route to control the fire (there),” Schwab said.

The fire became active after 3 p.m. Thursday, making runs in steep drainages near Grizzly Flat.

On the north end of the blaze firefighters have attempted to put in control lines to keep the fire from jumping Highway 50. “As best I know that’s still holding. It has not crossed Highway 50 yet but it is a couple hundred yards away,” said Schwab.

Schwab explained that the Caldor Fire has primarily been moving east — but slowly. An inversion layer has “choked off the spread of the fire,” he said.

Since evacuations have been put in place law enforcement officers are guarding neighborhoods against looters.

El Dorado County sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Palmberg said evacuated areas are watched 24 hours a day.

“Fortunately the vast majority of people have stayed out of the area, and most of our officers and deputies are encountering only other officers and deputies,” Palmberg said.

When a mandatory evacuation is in place, it is in place because it means there may not be fire resources “in which to go in and rescue somebody if the fire starts to move in certain directions,” according to law enforcement liaison Eric Lee.

Lee said the fire doesn’t have to be 100% contained before the repopulation process begins but there would have to be no fire in that immediate vicinity and all utilities turned back on.

The evacuations could be in place for at least a week, maybe two, according to Dusty Martin, Cal Fire incident commander.

“Our No. 1 priority is to get the community back into their homes,” Martin said. “We have to do that safely and make sure it’s safe for the residents and safe for the fire personnel.”

Some of those personnel are standing by and ready at Sly Park Road.

“We literally have an engine at every single residence along Sly Park Road, reducing fuels around them and structure defense in general in preparation should the fire make a run toward Sly Park Road,” Schwab said.

Due to the extreme nature of the fire, all roads, lands and trails have been closed on the Eldorado National Forest through Sept. 30.

“The forest closure was not taken very lightly,” said Jeff Marsolais, Eldorado National Forest supervisor. “In fact, I fully understand what it means to restrict you from your public lands. The piece that I want to make sure you are aware, is that when we instituted that closure it was about trying to keep you out of the way from this spreading fire. It’s about evacuations, it’s about stretched resources in our inability to keep pace with the fire that was at the time growing 40,000-45,000 acres in a single burning period.”

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