Thousands of people rushed to get out of South Lake Tahoe as the entire tourist resort city came under evacuation orders and wildfire raced toward the large freshwater lake of Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada.
Evacuation warnings issued for the resort city of 22,000 on Sunday turned into orders Monday. Vehicles loaded with bikes and camping gear and hauling boats snaked through thick, brown air that smelled of campfire. Police and other emergency vehicles whizzed by.
“This is a systematic evacuation, one neighborhood at a time,” South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Travis Cabral said on social media. “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 evacuated as the Caldor Fire raged nearby.
South Lake Tahoe’s main medical facility, Barton Memorial Hospital, proactively evacuated 36 patients needing skilled nursing and 16 in acute care beds Sunday, sending them to regional facilities far from the fire, 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 recreational paradise for San Francisco Bay Area locals looking for a weekend getaway, 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, bustles with 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 can’t be replaced.
She did not think the Caldor Fire would come so close. Fires in the past did not spread so rapidly near the resort city.
“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.”