By SAM METZ, JANIE HAR and JOHN ANTCZAK, Associated Press / Report for America

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) – Favorable weather has helped firefighters attempt to save communities on the southern end of Lake Tahoe from an impending wildfire, but officials warned on Wednesday that strong winds and Dry conditions mean homes in the California-Nevada alpine region are still in danger.

“Finally, good news on the meteorological side of things here on this fire,” Jim Dudley, a meteorologist assigned to the fire, said in an evening briefing. Winds are expected to calm significantly over the next few days, he said, but risks remain with extremely low humidity levels.

The Caldor blaze remained about 3 miles south of the recently evacuated town of South Lake Tahoe, moving northeast toward the California-Nevada border, battalion commander Henry Herrera said. from the agency, also known as Cal Fire. .

Teams have desperately tried to keep the flames away from urban communities, where homes are close together and where shopping malls, hotels and other structures would provide even more fuel for a blaze that until now has been fueled by trees, grasses and scattered houses and huts.

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“We are still not out of the woods. The fire is always on the move, ”Herrera said.

The fire burned toward Lake Tahoe from the southwest along California Highway 50, scaling a peak in the Sierra Nevada and descending into the Tahoe Basin.

Heavy smoke has enveloped the town of South Lake Tahoe, which is nearly deserted at a time when it would normally be teeming with tourists. On Monday, around 22,000 residents and thousands more from neighboring communities blocked the city’s main thoroughfare for hours after being ordered to leave.

South Lake Tahoe city officials said only a handful of residents defied the evacuation order.

Meanwhile, officials prepared for the possible next phase of the firefight.

The South Tahoe Public Utility District has asked people to turn off hoses, irrigation systems and sprinklers to make sure wells can pump at full capacity. This means that “the minute a firefighter hangs onto a fire hydrant, he gets full pressure and as much water as possible comes out,” said Shelly Thomsen, spokesperson for the public service.

In the city, white pickup truck rentals have dropped off private firefighters dispatched by insurance companies to spray around homes and clean bridges. Gas stations advertised prices of $ 5 per gallon (per 3.8 liters). The motels had “no vacancy” signs.

As the flames moved toward Heavenly Ski Resort, officials turned on the mountain’s snow machines to increase humidity and slow the flames.

Much to his wife’s dismay, John Rhodes, 60, remained around to defend the couple’s neighborhood in an unincorporated area south of South Lake Tahoe that burned down in the 2007 Angora fire. .

Rhodes and her neighbors, including several firefighters on leave from other California agencies, wrapped homes in pipes and installed sprinklers to create a perimeter around the neighborhood to complement the official work of fighting fires nearby.

As a novice firefighter, he admitted to having butterflies.

“I was worried about how I would stand near the hot spot. These guys are trying to get me all to coach, ”Rhodes said, pointing to his firefighter friends, who declined to speak to a reporter.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday asked President Joe Biden for a federal declaration of disaster, which would supplement state and local resources for firefighting efforts and relief for residents affected by the blaze.

The Caldor fire not only emptied southern Lake Tahoe, but parts of neighboring Stateline in Nevada as well.

Nevada casino regulators said gambling had been suspended at Hard Rock Lake Tahoe, Montbleu Resort, Harrah’s and Harvey’s Lake Tahoe, where officials said their casinos were closed to the public but their hotels housed casinos. firefighters and displaced workers.

The blaze has destroyed at least 700 homes and other structures and burned nearly 320 square miles (827 square kilometers) since it emerged on August 14. It still threatens at least 33,000 other homes and structures. It was 20% content on Wednesday.

More than 15,000 firefighters, with the help of foreign crews, battled dozens of fires in California, including another monstrous blaze in the same region.

Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, adjutant general of California, said the state has also deployed more than 1,000 National Guard soldiers, airmen and sailors, and 10 other states have sent an additional 1,250 members of the Guard. Many of them provide air support, including 23 planes, some equipped with buckets of water, others with systems that can drop fire retardants.

Baldwin described the working conditions as “very difficult”, especially for manual crews cutting dense brush with shovels and pickaxes. “They operate in very dangerous areas. “

A firefighter injured in the Caldor firefighting last weekend is expected to be hospitalized for a month after undergoing a skin transplant. Richard Gerety III of Patterson, Calif., Suffered third degree burns to 20 percent of his body, the Modesto Bee reported.

About 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the Lake Tahoe area blaze, the Dixie Fire is the second largest wildland fire in state history at 1,320 square miles (3,415 square kilometers ). The weeks-old blaze triggered new evacuation orders and warnings this week.

Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent, destructive and unpredictable, scientists say.

Tom O’Connell and his wife, Linda, awaited the fate of their home near Meyers as they were anchored on their sailboat in Ventura Harbor. The two rooms they have owned for 40 years survived the Angora fire that destroyed around 250 homes in 2007. They were unsure if they would be lucky again.

“You worry about the things that you can have some control over,” O’Connell said. “We have no control over it.”

Laura Forvilly had planned to stay as long as possible in her condominium in Stateline, but her adult children persuaded her to pack her bags on Tuesday and leave before the evacuation order. She arrived at her sister’s house in nearby Reno, where the air was clear and the sky blue.

She doesn’t worry about her home or her lake cruise business. But she is surprised by the proximity of the fire.

“I’m so sad that our beautiful Tahoe is going through this,” Forvilly said. “It’s hard to believe it’s actually happening so close to where we all live and work.”

Har reported from San Francisco. Antczak reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press editors Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco, Ken Ritter in Reno, and Christopher Weber and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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