Firefighters winning the battle
Firefighters on Thursday were getting the upper hand on a 672-acre blaze that forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in the Upper Kingsbury Grade area east of South Lake Tahoe.
Officials say the Gondola Fire is considered the No. 1 priority in the country, with more than 650 firefighters working it and hundreds more on standby.
The cause of the fire is under investigation but it is believed to be human caused, said Robin Renteria, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.
Smoke was first spotted Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. just east of the Heavenly gondola.
By Thursday morning, the blaze was about 25 percent contained. Hours later, a tested fire line circled more than 60 percent of the oval-shaped burn, which is contained mostly on Forest Service land in Nevada.
By Thursday afternoon, the head of the fire was in the area of Needle Peak Road and Boulder Lodge on the Nevada side of Heavenly Ski Resort.
Helicopters scooped water from the lake and bombers dropping retardant continued to attack the fire all Thursday.
Rough terrain has prevented full containment, said Brian Schafer, chief at Lake Valley Fire Protection District.
“That’s because the fire line is very erratic,” he said. “It’s very irregular, very complex terrain. It’s got chutes and gullies, lots of fingers.”
The fire burned right up to the edge of Tramway and spot fires caused by wind blown embers burned across Stagecoach and Boulder trails, Schafer said.
Bulldozers and firefighters wrapped around Upper Kingsbury Grade to protect houses and condominiums.
“The incident command ordered bulldozers strictly as a contingency,” Schafer said. “They are staged and only used if the fire broke containment lines and threatened to get in the bottom of Edgewood Canyon and Kingsbury subdivision.”
But concern mounted in the afternoon as temperatures began to climb and winds began to pick up.
“We are seeing some heat buildup and smoke columns are building,” said Bruce Van Cleemput, assistant chief of the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District.
Homes are located about 1/2-mile away from the path of the fire, but that path could change, depending on the wind direction, Van Cleemput said.
“Right now we’ve got hand crews and helicopters that are simultaneously working the flanks of the fire to keep it contained,” he said. “We are hoping it holds, but with the winds, it could be another story.”
Residents of the Kingsbury area who voluntarily evacuated Wednesday returned home late Thursday afternoon.
Evacuated residents were aided by the Red Cross, which set up a shelter at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle school in Gardnerville Ranchos. The shelter was to remain open through Friday.
About 200 families took shelter there and in Minden at the Carson Valley Inn Wednesday night.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, both the east and west sides of Highway 207 were opened.
Resources on the fire appear to be stable, but precautions have been made.
Officials are asking all South Lake Tahoe residents to curtail any unnecessary watering, which includes lawns, washing cars, doing laundry, even washing dishes if they don’t have to.
Also, showers are being encouraged to be kept to a minimum.
Local water districts serving the Kingsbury area are having a hard time keeping their 110,000-gallon Stateline tanks full.
There has been no estimate as to how much water has been used to this point. Stateline is the main area from which the local water district pulls water to fight fire.
The firefighters involved in the firefighting efforts include: the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, El Dorado and Douglas fire protection agencies and the Nevada Department of Forestry.