Firefighters strike against fire |

Firefighters strike against fire

Lauren Halsted, Tahoe Daily Tribune

STATELINE — People stood and stared with dropped jaws as they watched their worst nightmare become reality.

“See the flames, see it?” Pancho Garcia said to fellow Stateline Raley’s employee Britt Rowland.

Rowland and Garcia watched as the first two fire engines arrived around noon at the staging ground at Park Avenue and Montreal Road in South Lake Tahoe.

“Everyone’s been saying it’s gonna happen. But not now. Not like this,” Rowland said.

“Trees are exploding. Spot fires are jumping. It’s out of control,” Pat Wetzel said as he watched roaring flames from the bottom of Kingsbury Grade.

Wetzel, who has lived at Tahoe every summer for the past 49 years, saw the first plume of smoke as he drove across town earlier in the day.

He said he has never seen anything like this in Tahoe, not this close.

State troopers were conducting traffic at the bottom of Kingsbury while the evacuation took place.

Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District organized a staging ground at the bottom of the grade.

“Our biggest concern right now is structures,” Assistant Chief Bruce VanCleemput said at around 4 p.m.

Six strike teams, which consist of five engines and a leader, prepared for action. Their goal was to protect the structures off Kingsbury, which were at the greatest risk.

A strike team is a specifically designed unit designated to fulfill a targeted task. It stays together at all times, and is deployed in a specific location.

The teams used to fight the Gondola fire will leap-frog up the hill as needed. Fires of this nature usually spread fast, from tree-top to tree-top, and generally pass over houses, fire officials reported.

However, the strike teams will be at the scene to put out any sparks that land on roofs.

Southwest Gas had two representatives, who would not give their names, standing by in case the gas to houses needed to be turned off. They hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but added it didn’t look good.

A strike team staging ground was also set up at the Stateline Raley’s parking lot.

The California Department of Fire Nevada Yuba Placer unit from Truckee organized a type three strike team at this location.

Type one is the highest, with water tank size and equipment determining different levels, CDF firefighter Tyler Martin said. Each type of strike team has five engines and a leader.

The commander of the unit recently returned from fighting the fires in Arizona. He was not available for comment.

Crowds of stunned people filled the parking lot. Most sat in silence and watched as disaster struck too close to home.

Each time a helicopter loaded with water flew overhead, Raley’s employee April Kirkhuff whispered “thank you” with a hint of sadness in her eyes. When asked if she has ever seen anything like this, Kirkhuff, a 23-year resident, said “Not here. Not in Tahoe.”

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