An explosive California wildfire that has forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes, as well as devastated a mountain community, is threatening the nearby Lake Tahoe basin, which straddles the California-Nevada line.

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Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said the Caldor Fire is the “No. 1 priority in the nation” for securing more resources to help stave off the damage it could inflict on the popular resort destination, according to an NBC News report.

The Lake Tahoe Visitors Bureau says 2.7 million people visit the area each year. It’s also home to tens of thousands of people.

“It is that important,” Porter told reporters. “We have all efforts to keep it out of the basin.”

The blaze has destroyed 557 buildings, Cal Fire officials said. Last week, it burned down much of Grizzly Flat, a small community 50 miles east of Sacramento.

Eric Schwab, a Cal Fire section chief, said Monday that limiting the fire’s eastern spread toward Tahoe and small mountain communities was a “huge priority.” The eastern side of the fire is only about 45 miles from South Lake Tahoe. Firefighters were struggling to contain a spot fire in that section of the blaze that was quickly expanding.

According to the California Department of Transportation, U.S. Highway 50 is closed from Pollock Pines to Meyers, about a 40-mile stretch. Meyers is close to South Lake Tahoe.

(Map: FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events. Caldor fire as of Aug. 24. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.)

While crews have been able to keep the fire away from Tahoe, its smoke has practically suffocated the area. Officials have shut down Nevada state parks in the Lake Tahoe area until at least Friday due to unhealthy air quality. The closure, which is in effect until at least Friday, affects the following areas:

• Sand Harbor.
• Spooner Lake.
• Spooner backcountry, including Marlette and Hobart.
• Cave Rock.
• Van Sickle.

According to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Management Services, more than 24,000 people remained under evacuation orders Monday in El Dorado County, where the fire was first reported on Aug. 14.

The fire, which grew by more than 47,000 acres in less than 24 hours, had swelled to more than 106,000 acres by Monday, approaching 107,000 by Tuesday morning. It was only 5% contained based on the late Tuesday morning report from InciWeb. In recent days, the fire jumped U.S. Highway 50, the main thoroughfare through the Tahoe area.

The fire is one of 11 large blazes burning across the state. A Cal Fire spokesman said Monday that a staggering 1.5 million acres have burned in California this year, a 42% jump from last year, when the most acres in modern history burned across the state. The Caldor fire is one of 92 large wildfires across the country. These fires were burning 2.5 million acres of land in 12 states as of Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Experts have attributed the state’s increasingly intense fire seasons to a historic drought magnified by climate change and a century of fire suppression policies that built up dense forests that can act as kindling.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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