Angora Fire destroys homes, threatens South Lake Tahoe
June 24, 2007
At least 165 homes and structures have been destroyed in Lake Tahoe’s worst fire in half a century, according to South Lake Tahoe Mayor Kathay Lovell, following a briefing.
“This is the worst fire I can recall,” Lovell said of the 2,000-acre blaze that is still burning out of control as of 10:30 p.m. Sunday night. “It just shows you the power of this. It is heartbreaking. It is absolutely heartbreaking. We’ve got Lake Valley firefighters who are fighting the fire and who have lost their own homes.”
A state of emergency was issued for El Dorado County.
No injuries had been reported, but the major blaze prompted by severe wind gusts was still out of control as of press time. Hundreds of spot fires erupted as embers blew through the air. Popping sounds like gunfire cracked as trees burst into flames.
Mass evacuations of residents were ordered in the North Upper Truckee and Tahoe Mountain areas, where the fire shot up the ridge and burned homes. The original fire call came in at 2:14 p.m.
By 8 p.m., the fire was burning close to South Tahoe High School threatening structures there. Firefighters were dousing hot spots in the trees around the school, according to witnesses.
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Two SUVs had been damaged, as more than 400 firefighters from agencies across the region fought back the flames in Tahoe Paradise. Five air tankers and two helicopters assisted several ground crews.
Kit Bailey, the agency’s fire chief incident commander for the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said the wind was hampering efforts for fire crews and had delayed air tankers early on.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation, with wind being the culprit for its rapid spread.
Flames were fanned by sustained winds sometimes up to 25 mph with gusts of up to 35 mph Sunday, the National Weather Service in Reno reported.
People frantically drove out of the North Upper Truckee Road area; others could be seen running on foot. A motorcycle rider was seen getting off his bike and putting out a fire on a bank.
Homeowner Jim Ferguson, who lives on Coyote Ridge Circle, sprinted down North Upper Truckee toward the junction of highways 50 and 89, known locally as the “Y,” saying: “There’s not much you can do.”
A tearful Carla Ennis, worrying about her dog at home, sat distraught in a car with her neighbor at a checkpoint established at Sawmill Road and Lake Tahoe Boulevard.
“I can’t get to my house,” she said, as a police officer motioned for her to move back out of danger.
Roads were closed at North Upper Truckee at Highway 50 all the way to Lake Tahoe Boulevard. Authorities alerted residents on Gardner Mountain in the afternoon to be prepared for evacuation.
Traffic controls were in effect on Highway 50 in Meyers to make way for the large volume of vehicles leaving North Upper Truckee Road.
A huge smoke plume could be seen for miles around the Northern Nevada area and as far away as Jackson, Calif..
Jordan Morgenstern was out shooting video for a Internet outfit and right at Angora Creek Road when the fire broke out. Fire crews had not yet arrived.
“The trees were going up like spirals. The sound was like a freight train,” Morgenstern said.
The smoke was so dark he lost his sense of direction, he said.
Some residents, such as Marla Meredith, were out on Lake Tahoe Sunday afternoon, but headed back in when they saw the smoke. She was not allowed to go to her home in the evacuation area, on Grizzly Mountain Road. If she had been, she would have retrieved her computer, she said.
Terry Carroll, owner of Apollo Plumbing and Heating, arrived at Lake Tahoe Boulevard and D Street, where a crowd had gathered with 21 cases of bottled of water, which he brought for anyone who might need it.
Carroll also brought his truck with a 500-gallon tank full of water, in case it was needed by firefighters or others.
“We just have to help where we can,” he said.
The Angora fire headed in a northwesterly direction from the Upper Truckee neighborhood before stopping at the Angora ridge and moving east. But the winds shifted through the afternoon.
People who were ordered evacuated were directed to the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center on Rufus Allen boulevard, the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center on Lake Tahoe Boulevard and South Tahoe Middle School on Al Tahoe Boulevard.
The command post for firefighters was moved to the Lake Tahoe Airport.
South Lake Tahoe City Manager Dave Jinkens, who was staged at the command post, took the incident as a wake-up call to Tahoe residents.
“Certainly, as you know, in the Basin, until our fuels are reduced, there’s always the potential for catastrophic fire,” he said.
El Dorado County issued a proclamation of emergency on Sunday afternoon, said county Supervisor Norma Santiago. The proclamation is the first step in getting an emergency proclamation from the governor.
That will get the wheels turning for financial assistance from the state for repairs and cleanup from the disaster, Santiago said. The amount of the funding, and whether it would cover damage to private as well as public property, remains to be determined, she said.
In addition, Santiago heard from a representative of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, inquiring if federal assistance might be needed.
“It saddens me that we’ve seen such loss,” she said, adding that she’ll be working to help people rebuild and get back into their homes as quickly as possible.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report