Instead, the Caldor Fire erupted in the Sierra Nevada on Monday. This forced the evacuation of all 22,000 South Lake Tahoe residents and thousands of tourists, who were otherwise enjoying their summers at the alpine lake that straddles the California-Nevada state border.
If authorities had been able to send more firefighters to the small fire, this drastic move may not have been necessary. 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.
Scott Stephens, a professor of wildlandfire science at the University of California Berkeley, stated that "I think the Dixie, the way it's burnt and its magnitude did impact early response to Caldor." "It really drew down resources so much that Caldor got very few the first couple of days."
Caldor arrived at Lake Tahoe two weeks later with 4,000 firefighters, dozens upon dozens of water-dropping planes, and hundreds upon hundreds of fire engines, bulldozers, and fire engines.
A half-dozen fire specialists said that all the manpower and equipment was not enough to deal with the tinder dry conditions and whipping downslope wind, as well as a dense forest ready to burn. They also warned that the West's resources are already limited and international fire experts say the situation will worsen over time as more firefighters fight bigger blazes which start earlier and last longer.
"Mother Nature is calling the cards on our hubris that we can conquer and control wildfires during these extreme conditions," said Timothy Ingalsbee, a former federal firefighter who now heads Oregon-based Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, which advocates for working with wildfires instead of reflexively putting them out.
On Aug. 14, the Caldor Fire erupted from unknown causes in steeply wooded foothills east Sacramento. About 240 firefighters responded to the Caldor Fire in the first few days. This was in contrast to 6,550 firefighters who were fighting the Dixie Fire.
Four days later, Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter announced that fire managers had diverted 30 engines from the Dixie Fire to Caldor Fire. The number of firefighters and engines nearly doubled overnight. But the fire had already engulfed Grizzly Flats and destroyed dozens of homes. The town was home to approximately 1,200 people.