Lake Tahoe wildfire seemed controlled, but it wasn’t

Hundreds of homes are destroyed

Just last week, managers overseeing the fight against the massive wildfire scorching California’s Lake Tahoe region thought they could have it contained by the start of this week.

Instead, the Caldor Fire crested the Sierra Nevada on Monday, forcing the unprecedented evacuation of all 22,000 residents of South Lake Tahoe and tens of thousands of tourists who would otherwise be winding down their summers by the alpine lake straddling the California-Nevada state line.

That drastic move might never have been needed if authorities could have thrown more firefighters at the blaze when it was small. That didn’t happen because the Dixie Fire was simultaneously raging across the mountain range 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the north, on the way to becoming the second-largest wildfire in California history.

“I do think the Dixie and the way that it’s burned and its magnitude did impact the early response to the Caldor,” said Scott Stephens, a professor of wildland fire science at the University of California, Berkeley. “It really drew resources down so much that the Caldor got very few for the first couple days.”

By the time Caldor approached Lake Tahoe two weeks later, there were 4,000 fire personnel, dozens of water-dropping aircraft and hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers.

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