‘State of limbo’: One evacuee worried about state of tourism, jobs in wake of Caldor Fire (Video)

Not a matter of if, but when: Caldor Fire approaches stateline

Rebecca O'Neil
The Union
Single-tree torching off Highway 50, near Chiapa Drive southwest of Meyers, results in more spot fires that continued to push their way east toward Heavenly Ski Resort Tuesday as the Caldor Fire caused evacuations and threatened nearby structures.
Photo: Elias Funez

Update Thursday 7:20 a.m.:

Caldor Briefing from Cal Fire:

The fire has burned 210,259 acres and is now 25% contained as of Thursday morning, Cal Fire said. Cal Fire expects full containment by Sept. 13.

Initially Posted:

Guiliano Quaretti-Lee is one of over 20,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe displaced by the Caldor Fire.

Quaretti-Lee packed essentials Monday after clocking out at 11 a.m. at South Side Auto Body, where he technically still works as a mechanic. The plan was to head to Grass Valley, Quaretti-Lee said, but the fire’s threat blocked routes headed west. Instead, Quaretti-Lee took Highway 50 north to Carson City while his boss opted south, toward the Gardnerville-Topaz area.

“Because the fire came out of Echo Lake, Emerald Bay was evacuated and they weren’t letting people out that way,” Quaretti-Lee said.

He was fortunate to find refuge in an actual home for the last two nights, and opted out of picking up toiletries at the Carson City Community Center-turned-shelter across the street from his friend’s house after witnessing new volunteers navigate extreme need.

Quaretti-Lee said he has been trying to stay away from the news, given how helpless updates of the Caldor Fire’s destruction make him feel, but remains deeply concerned for all members of his community — from employers and employees to homeowners and transients.

He referenced the large number of posts on community Facebook groups offering support to evacuees by way of lending cars, offering rooms and sharing resources.

“I saw a good number of our outdoor community grabbing all their stuff and heading to Stateline — on foot,” Quaretti-Lee said. “There are good number of people in Tahoe without reliable vehicles.”

Quaretti-Lee highlighted Safe Taxi’s post offering to pick people up at Stateline.

A strike team approaches their engines after being dispatched to the Caldor Fire, near Meyers, on Tuesday. Resources from across the state, including Southern California, have arrived in the South Lake Tahoe region.
Photo: Elias Funez


While grateful for his friends’ physical safety, Quaretti-Lee said it is hard for him to imagine their financial well-being.

“It’s really stressful,” Quaretti-Lee said. “Half of our town is still struggling from the last year. The small restaurants who avoided closure — it’s been two hard summers and now they’re just completely displaced.”

Quaretti-Lee said the fire’s short- and long-term consequences are becoming clearer — and more painful — as visibility over Vail’s Heavenly Resort wanes.

“The fire is headed right to Heavenly,” Quaretti-Lee said. “Heavenly is on Stateline. If it hits Heavenly, they can’t open the mountain. If there’s no mountain, you have casinos, but all the resort hotels, ski lodges, even Airbnbs (are going to suffer).”

South Lake Tahoe’s tourism industry has already taken a hit, but its survival is contingent on the success — at minimum, the existence — of nearby resorts.

“A lot of our friends work at Sierra(-at-Tahoe),” Quaretti-Lee said. “Are any of their chairs even viable? Do they need to replace all that equipment before it can be run? If there is no ski resort, there’s no more winter tourism.”

As an avid skier himself, Quaretti-Lee said many of his friends choose to work at resorts because they are dedicated to a life spent outdoors.

“A lot of people move to Tahoe to be on mountain,” Quaretti-Lee explained, adding that the potential loss — of home and livelihood — is immeasurable. “If Kirkwood burns down, where do they go? We’re all in this state of limbo to see if the town ever does burn down.”

Quaretti-Lee said he personally qualifies for wage-loss protection, an assurance the former Floridian is new to, despite enduring a number of hurricanes in the South.

“My boss said there’s a lot of protection for us,” Quaretti-Lee said. “He left me feeling like it was going to be all right.”

Quaretti-Lee said he did not pay rent for the month of September, but he knows his landlord will still have to pay her mortgage.

“I said, ‘Hey, we will figure this out later. Right now, I need the cash in my account to survive,” Quaretti-Lee said.

A sign left by evacuees off Highway 89 in the Christmas Valley warns potential looters of their fate should someone decide to take advantage of the mandatory evacuations put in place due to the Caldor Fire. Law enforcement officials continue their constant patrols of the South Lake Tahoe communities during evacuations.
Photo: Elias Funez


The Caldor Fire is 20% contained after 18 days. Authorities began to repopulate the Camino area, on the west end of El Dorado County, on Wednesday, said a Cal Fire official during an update Wednesday afternoon. Toward Nevada, successive Cal Fire maps indicate the red fire boundary — indicating lack of control — extending further on the northeastern front past Trout Creek toward Cold Creek.

Cal Fire is prioritizing efforts in “Division K” of the fire, between Highway 50 and the California-Nevada boundary. Seven hundred twenty-nine structures have been destroyed over the course of the fire, but Cal Fire officials said firefighters have successfully protected residences there that are close to the fire’s edge, above and below Pioneer Trail.

The plan — if the fire is not contained at its current boundary line — is to direct the eastward flames south to the land under Heavenly Ski Resort.

Floating embers persevered and flames jumped across Highway 88, 89 and 50, testing Cal Fire’s contingency plans and endurance.

During the Caldor Fire’s morning update Wednesday, safety officer Jamal Cook encouraged first responders to be mindful of fatigue.

“We all know how we have a long grind ahead of us, and we can’t stress enough how important it is to pace ourselves,” Cook said.

Cal Fire assigned 26 helicopters, 490 engines, 96 dozers, 77 water tenders and 4,224 personnel Wednesday to mitigate the fire’s expansion — currently at 207,931 acres — in calamitous conditions.

Wind gusts fan the flames of the Caldor Fire as it makes its way back up Echo Summit Tuesday morning after spotting into the Christmas Valley on Monday. Firefighters have kept structures from burning in the South Lake Tahoe basin.
Photo: Elias Funez


Fire Behavior Analyst Steve Volmer said fire-weakened timber continues to fall across power lines, roads and escape routes. Deep stump holes and corresponding deep-seated heat will continue to ignite spot fires in areas that appear, superficially, under control.

“There’s a lot of factors that are driving this fire,” Volmer said. “All (this) erratic behavior will still be in play for the next couple of weeks.”

Combined with arid climate and gusty winds, the rugged and steep terrain that draw tourists to the Tahoe basin pose serious access challenges to first responders on scene. Incident meteorologist Jim Dudley said Wednesday the area will see some terrain-driven winds, but significantly less than the the first half of the week.

A Los Angeles County firefighter uses a hose to douse the flames of the Caldor Fire as they approach Highway 89 in the Christmas Valley Tuesday afternoon.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Friday is a light wind day across the fire,” Dudley said.

According to Cook, the Caldor Fire contains all five of the characteristics identified in fatal fires, referred to in the industry as “tragedy fires.”

“There are five common denominators in tragedy fires,” Cook said. “Every single one of those can be related to this incident here.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Sierra Sun. She can be reached at

According to the National Wildfire Coordinating group’s Incident Response Pocket Guide

such fires often occur –

1. On relatively small fires or deceptively quiet areas of large fires.

2. In relatively light fuels, such as grass, herbs, and light brush.

3. When there is an unexpected shift in wind direction or in wind speed.

4. When fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill.

5. Critical burn period between 2 and 5 p.m.

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