Caldor Fire spreads another four miles to the northeast

The 104,000-acre fire is 14 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe

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Updated 10:09 a.m. PDT August 23, 2021

Caldor Fire map 3:41 a.m. PDT August 23, 2021
Caldor Fire map. The black line was the perimeter during a mapping flight at 5:25 p.m. PDT Aug. 22, 2021. The interior blue line was the perimeter about 18 hours before. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 3:51 a.m. PDT Aug 23, 2021.

The Caldor Fire in northern California 14 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe did not spread as much Sunday as it did Saturday when it ran four miles to the northeast. Still, it added about 6,000 acres to bring the total up to 104,309 acres.

Most of the growth Sunday was on the northeast side near Kyburz, on both sides of Highway 50 where spot fires occurred up to a half-mile ahead of the main fire front. A spot fire north of the highway south of Granite Springs Road grew substantially. Under the existing conditions of weather and fuel moisture, burning embers lofted into the air easily ignite the very dry fuels.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Caldor Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

On Monday firefighters expect southwest winds to continue, with ridgeline winds of 4-9 mph. Fire growth will occur in all areas, especially on the north and northeast flanks. A minimal inversion and smoke layer should clear before noon, with fire activity increasing quickly, aided by the up-canyon breezes. Smoldering spot fires will begin to become active once exposed to the wind and sunny conditions. New spot fires could occur up to a mile ahead of the main fire front.

Diurnal wind patterns will likely cause the Caldor Fire to send smoke into the Lake Tahoe Basin during the day. After sunset a down canyon flow will cause smoke to drain down the Highway 50 corridor into Placerville and the Eldorado hills overnight.

Night flying helicopters are being used to drop water at night for the first time in Northern California. On August 18 a group of three large helicopters that can carry 1,000 to 3,000 gallons was dispatched to the area from the southern part of the state. Since arriving they have been stymied by visibility problems caused by smoke trapped in inversions, but at least one was flying Sunday night. The video below shows the smallest of the three large ships, a 1,000-gallon Sikorsky S-61, dropping on the Caldor Fire. The other two are 3,000-gallon CH-47D Chinooks.

Due to extreme fire conditions and “strained firefighter resources throughout the country” the US Forest Service has enacted a temporary closure of nine National Forests in California: Tahoe, Plumas, Lassen, Mendocino, Klamath, Six Rivers, Shasta-Trinity, Modoc, and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

9:05 a.m. PDT August 22, 2021

Caldor Fire map 9:15 p.m. PDT Aug. 21, 2021
Caldor Fire map. The black line was the perimeter during a mapping flight at 9:15 p.m. PDT Aug. 21, 2021. The green line was the perimeter about 24 hours before. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:30 a.m. PDT August 22, 2021. The dark red areas had extreme heat during the last mapping flight.

The northeast side of the Caldor Fire ran for more than four miles Saturday, growing to 98,000 acres while being pushed by 8 to 10 mph winds out of the southwest gusting to 20 mph. The relative humidity measured at the Barney Ridge weather station south of the fire on Omo Ranch Road never dropped below 30 percent, which likely moderated the spread.

The fire activity slowed Saturday night as the wind decreased but spot fires were still occurring.

The weather forecast for Sunday is for high temperatures in the 70s, relative humidity 25 to 32 percent, and afternoon winds becoming southwest at 5 to 9 mph with 15 mph gusts.

The fire is along Highway 50, 14 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe and 36 miles east of the Sacramento suburbs.

During a fixed wing mapping flight at 9:15 Saturday night the Caldor Fire was less than a mile from Highway 50 in several places, but was still mostly south of the highway. A significant spot fire had become established north of the road near Kyburz.

Caldor Fire vicinity map, 9:15 p.m. PDT Aug 21, 2021
Caldor Fire vicinity map, 9:15 p.m. PDT Aug 21, 2021.

As it spread over four miles Saturday there were numerous spot fires caused by lofted burning embers out ahead of the fire. One of the spots southwest of Sciots Camp was was documented 1.8 miles from the main front.

Firefighters expect the growth to continue Sunday in all areas, with minimal growth at the southern and eastern portions, and major growth continuing on the north and northeastern sides. Spot fires will occur a half mile ahead. The Probability of Ignition will be 87 percent, meaning 87 percent of lofted firebrands that land in receptive fuels will ignite the fuel. The wind may clear much of the smoke out making it possible for air tankers and helicopters to assist firefighters, but they may be limited or ineffective due to the wind speeds.

Officials reported that 235 residences have been destroyed, an increase of 56 from yesterday.

Resources assigned to the fire Saturday evening included 28 hand crews, 194 fire engines, 22 dozers, 15 water tenders, and 20 helicopters for a total of 1,603 personnel.

Nationally, 26,123 personnel are working on wildfires today. Six of the eight military C-130 aircraft equipped with Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems which convert them to air tankers have been activated.

Can the fire be stopped?

If it has not happened already, by the end of the day on Sunday the fire will reach the 100,000-acre threshold to be called a “megafire”– a status that until a decade or two ago was rare.

Under these conditions with the predicted weather, the heavy fuel loads, and historically low fuel moistures, there is no possibility of stopping the forward spread of the fire. There is no number of 747 air tankers or firefighters on the ground that could be effective against the flaming front of this raging inferno. The best they can hope for is to find areas on the heel and flanks where the topography and vegetation are conducive to constructing indirect or direct fire lines, and firing out when appropriate, perhaps at night when weather conditions are more likely to lead to success.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

30 thoughts on “Caldor Fire spreads another four miles to the northeast”

  1. Thank you Bill for this reporting. Very helpful information with family living close to the area.

    1. Let’s begin with prayers ASAP!! 100,000 acres is huge and will require a miracle to STOP this GIANT FIRE along with other fires that are growing into Mega Fire’s across the United States of America.??

      Stay safe and arrive alive!!

  2. I visited Lake Tahoe 30 years ago to see a Uncle he showed me around and I remember him saying that if there is ever a Forest Fire here the place will be ruined because of all the under brush . He said that everyone wanted to leave it in it’s so called natural state. That’s before I became a Wildland Firefighter I now know what he was saying is so true . Good luck Lake Tahoe with the 40 plus years of bad Forestry Practices.

    1. John. Actually in the Tahoe Basin, there has been an aggressive push to reduce forest litter via thinning and off season controlled burns over the past decade after the Angora fire swept through and destroy about 300 hours in a couple of days.

      In the current area of the Caldor fire please notice the topography map. It is a checkered board of mixed Forest land and private land that is very difficult to get to and thin out. Also, the private residents along Highway 50 have not thinned anything leaving “dog hair” stands of small ladder fuels all the way into Pollock Pines and Placerville. With the poor history of human caused fires (Wrights, Cleveland, Fred and King) in that area over the past 35 years, area residents should have planned for the worst as well.

      This years multiple record heat waves along with a very bad drought in the entire West Coast, including Canada, is about as bad as anyone has seen for wildfire.

      “Luck is often the by product of good planning.”

  3. Hi Bill, I believe the Firefighters have a chance to really slow down the Caldor fire between Desolation Wilderness, Lovers Leap and The Devils Playground areas simply because there is way more granite then timber and brush in those three areas. It really depends on using air resources aggressively and lower wind speeds, as you pointed. Unfortunately for the Strawberry Resort and Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort areas, I cannot say the same. However, at least at Sierra at Tahoe, there are large “man made” ski runs and parking lots that could possible be used for breaks.

    Stay safe Firefighters and cross my fingers for better weather too.

  4. Why hasn’t the military person been called in to be Tier 2 workers with shovels and mattocks? Why haven’t the Military Engineers units been called in with hundreds of dozers, bucket loaders and backhoes? Where are the military 5000 gallon water tankers? Instead of the firefighting swimming pools at houses along the highways how about 5000 potable water trucks. Whu wasntthe Tammerack fire put out immediately?
    So people will and have lost their house due to lack of Mutual Miltary support and creative thinking.

  5. Sorry to disagree Bill M, but there were no “environmentalist” around in the 1800’s when most of the Sierra Nevada clear cutting occurred to supply lumber for mines in Nevada and construction in California.

    For thousands of years prior, fire had kept the forest litter in check along with larger fire resistant trees. That all ended in the 1800’s after cutting denuded the landscape, fire suppression of the West became the mantra and diverse forests developed into mono-species forests for faster timber growth.

    Sure, the Earth has seen a lot of climate change of the past 4 billion years. However, Homo Sapiens have never lived on an Earth this warm with this much CO2 released via fossil fuel burning (look at Antarctic ice core samples for proof). The Earth will survive another 7 billion years of so. The real question is what type of Earth we want to live in for the next 100 to 1000 years; the Earth we evolved with or or this hot house Earth we have created?

    Also, the wildfires currently burning in Siberia are larger then all the fires in the rest of the world and I do not believe there are any of your deflective “money, study, owl conspiracies” in Siberia happening; as if there are actually billionaire scientists out there.

    Good luck indeed.

    1. You are out of woke and not reading what i said before, 225? mills were shut down just in CA alone starting back in 1985 because of the Spotted Owl. So with that said yes the forest was neglected in the hands of the red tape environmentalist. It is reality like 2+2= 4 not 4.5 good luck

  6. Do you need to make this tragedy political? Blaming this on whomever you dislike isn’t helpful. Nor is your negativity. Get out there and help with cleanup in Tahoe. There are organizations you can get involved with, and they aren’t based on politics. Some people care about our natural world outside of political camps.

  7. referance above … the ” no amount of 747’s and firefighters could stop this fire. ”
    What a loser and negative attitude. How about going a 4 miles , 10 miles, halfway to Lake Tahoe and building a 1 mile fire break, setting backfires or something. How about 100 arines blow down trees with C4 and the other nine hundred put out the small fires. How about calling asking for volunteers to show up with chain saws and Excavation companies with excavators. As a Miltary Flood and Fire Liason officer in the 90’s I see no creating out-of-the-box thinking. Seem the Cal Fire and Fed Gov forest service are still building kingdoms and castles . How about the Cal Firefighters getting $$28 dollars an hour and the Federal firefighters getting 12-14 dollars and hour? You act like you never fought a forest fire before. How about getting 200 747’s ready for next year , while you give up this year.

  8. Well discribed!! From one veteran to another fire fighting veteran. Let’s remember those who are up against this GIANT FIRE!!

    Stay safe and arrive alive!!

  9. You know, I am way up in Stateline, but I just did a walk around video inventory of the house, just because.

  10. Sorry Bill M, but environmentalists do not have anything to do with an extreme drought in the West along with the associated record heat waves. Nor are they responsible for the record heat over the entire planet. And, the largest wildfires on Earth currently burning in Siberia are not the result of your deflective “red tape, studies, owls or butterflies.” either. The high CO2 levels and heat seen over the past seven decades (310ppm to 420ppm and the 1 degree C/1.75F) are a direct result of Homo Sapiens burning massive cubic tonnage amounts of fossil fuels. Based on the CO2 levels in ice core samples from Antarctica that date back 800,000 years, Homo Sapiens have never lived on an Earth with this much CO2 (420ppm) until now.

    Sure, the Earth has seen large climate changes over the past 4 billion years. But the question is what type of Earth do we want to try to actually live in for the next 100 – 1000 years; the Earth we evolved with or the hot house Earth we are creating?

    Good luck indeed.

  11. Bill M. You’re absolutely right and there’s much more to the story. It starts all the way back to John Muir, the great photographer and Socialist if not a Communist who’s influence over the wealthy families of San Francisco push his agenda of saving the Sierras. Through the years and many politicians including a few that still serve in office today, pushed the Muir’s “Do Something for Our Forest” started the great environmental movement to save the trees and forest – the Sierra Club. This carried into our higher education systems (UC Berkeley) which produced many of our tainted Foresters. The problem back then was the lack of understanding between wildfire and the environment. Policies from Muir’s love of the Sierras grew into the suppression of every wildfire, natural or “man-caused” to save out forest. Those type policies put us in the situation we’re in today. Today the wildfire situation throughout the Western US is seriously in the stage of wiping out our forest. We are now to a point that our State Fire Agency, CalFire and the USFS has lost the battle. One million acre fire burning in CA and no matter what we throw at it – it continues to burn. The reason is not Global Warming or Climate Change, it is simply the over abundance of available fuel. What looks like a healthy forest from our drives through the Sierras is not natural or healthy. When you can see solid cover forest for 20 to 30 miles, that’s not the natural forest. The natural forest is a mosaic forest with natural fire breaks throughout cause by lightening fires and some “man-made” fires that was happening way back by Native Americans and early ranchers. With our populations moving further and further up in the Sierra and mountains, wildfire is very difficult to manage as with the recent Tamarack Fire. Homes in higher elevation should be re-considered. Managing fire in the wilderness is like herding cats. Once on the run, its out of control. Manage of natural fire is still possible however it may take more experience fire personnel to be out there on the watch do to the fuel loading. So how do we survive these wildfires? There are 2 thoughts, both will be tromped on by the Fire Gods. 1. CalFire needs to go back to it’s original Mission Statement.
    In the late 1990s CalFire was born and replaced CDF. In that process, our CDF forestry firefighters threw away there forestry uniform of green and brown and took on a pressed dark dark blue top and bottom. They became IAFF Union “spit-shined” firefighters that we seen on media articles with there huge Calfire Logo. It’s like a large company promotion gimmick. They take some of the best training firefighters in the world and portray them as Heros before they roll out the door. That’s not a forestry worker – that’s Agency budget building – CDF budget now at $2.9B. At the same time CalFire takes on “All-Risk” coverage. They take over County Fire Agencies, they have Type 1 Engines duty in the large cities, they roll out to every 991 call, flood control, hazmat, rescues, fast water rescue, structure fires, vehicle accidents, medical calls, cat up a tree and more. Take a photo, post in the media and a HERO is born. This not only takes them away from forest management, the training that they need is also taking them away from the original Mission. Even their fire engines are bogged down with these extra items for “All-Risk” and not easy to get off the road to handle rough terrain and narrow roads. The engines are also dress up with chrome and other items causing over weight or additional work to keep clean and shinny. CalFire has dropped the ball on forestry work and wildfires for higher exposure to the media and public. When not on wildfire, they need to be prescribed burning or reducing wildland fuels in some manner – day in and day out all year. Yes all year, full time employment in forest work. I sorry, they will not see signs posted “Thank You for cutting Brush”. The local 991 calls can be handled by County Fire and City Fire. They’re local residents and know the area and people and they can support CDF on more manageable wildfires. The other suggestion – CDF back off the logging regulations and RPF running a muck on all trees that are cut and brush removed. That belongs to the homeowners and private business, and loggers. AIFF is not needed. Stop hiring Foresters from UC Berkeley and they are causing the environmental damage we see happening with wildfires.

    1. Gad. Read a book.

      John Muir headed for Yosemite long before anyone invented Communism or Socialism… which, by the way, is not really much of a Scots thing. Great photographer????

      Or are you just jealous of the Cal Fire trucks?

  12. Can the Fire be Stopped? (last paragraph). Probably what many don’t want to hear (frustrating). Its not a loser attitude, but a realistic assessment of the days to come. This was written by a person NOT shooting from-the hip.

  13. OK everyone…. Let’s STOP these disagreements (which is not doing any good) and go clean your area around your houses!

  14. I agree with Susan!! This isn’t a political forum.
    Climate change is real . . . it’s called Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring. There are a lot of strategies and tactics which are useful, the most common one is anchor and flank.

  15. Why not release thousands of alpine goats in the Sierras and put a bounty on their predators? They will eat everything except the older trees and not cause too much damage. Other thing – bring back logging, but not clear cutting. It seems bizarre to me that we have this much forest burning while the nation has a lumbar shortage. Regarding this fire in particular – whatever does not burn will burn eventually. It is inevitable. Got to be able to cut down trees near your home. One way or the other the trees will be gone…

    1. Not a baaahed idea, but where do you get thousands of alpine goats?

      If you have thousands of alpine goats, you’ve got too many goats.

  16. Great write-up, Mr. Bill Gabbert! I learned more from your article than from reading all the major news media posts this past week. Thank you!
    I also learned from some of the posted comments. I kinda agree with the concept of volunteers, even if all they can do is dig fire breaks, or line up for a bucket brigade from Jenkinson Lake. Surely you can get 5,000 able-bodied volunteers out of 24,000 evacuated residents!

  17. A lot of these comments are, well astonishing to say the least.. Some wishful, candyland, everything is perfect land. Probably time to take a step back to reality folks.. No, 5,000 volunteers bucket chaining from some lake is going to help. Having the military blow trees up, engineers bringing in 200 bull dozers and excavators. This is where the problem lies between the public, and the folks on the ground. Stop jumping to conclusions, and thinking your idea would stop a fire.

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