California: Thousands told to evacuate popular Lake Tahoe resort as wildfire nears

·3-min read

An evacuation order has been issued in the popular tourist destination of South Lake Tahoe in California, as the Caldor wildfire neared the city.

Thousands of people have been forced to leave the resort city, as the wildfire raced towards the large freshwater lake which straddles California and Nevada.

Officials had issued evacuation warnings for the city of 20,000 but on Monday, they change it to an evacuation order - with people scrambling to leave the city.

"This is a systematic evacuation, one neighbourhood at a time," South Lake Tahoe police Lieutenant Travis Cabral said.

"I am asking you as our community to please remain calm."

The new orders come a day after communities several miles south of the lake were abruptly ordered to evacuate as the Caldor fire raged nearby.

South Lake Tahoe's main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, evacuated 36 patients needing skilled nursing and 16 in acute care beds on Sunday, sending them to regional facilities, public information officer Mindi Befu said.

The rest of the hospital was evacuating following Monday's expanded orders.

The entire Lake Tahoe area in the Sierra Nevada mountains is a tourist hot spot for people in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a national destination.

The area offers beaches, water sports, hiking, ski resorts and golfing.

South Lake Tahoe, at the southern end of the lake, has many outdoor activities, with casinos available in bordering Stateline, Nevada.

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tamara Wallace prepared to leave with her husband, youngest child, dogs and items given to them from their deceased parent - objects that cannot be replaced.

"It's just yet another example of how wildfires have changed over the years," she said.

"It's just a culmination of 14 to 18 more years of dead trees, the droughts we've had since then, those kinds of things."

The region faces a warning from the National Weather Service about critical fire weather until Tuesday.

The fire destroyed multiple homes on Sunday along Highway 50, one of the main routes to the south end of the lake.

It also hit the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, destroying some buildings but leaving the main structures intact.

Dry fuel and up-slope winds helped fan the fire over almost 10,000 more acres on Sunday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fire, which has spread across 177,260 acres (71,740 hectares), is 14% contained.

Hotel owner Neil Panchal and his family were up until around 3am so they could leave their South Lake Tahoe home in El Dorado on Monday morning for Nevada.

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"We've been here so long, and we've never seen anything like this. The kids were crying," Mr Panchal, 42, said.

"First COVID, and now this on top of it."

California, which typically has experienced its peak fire season in late summer and autumn, is already on pace to see more of its landscape go up in flames this year than last, the worst year on record.

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