Residents and tourists in communities near Lake Tahoe were sent fleeing early this week as a fierce, 2-week-old wildfire roared closer to the popular resort destination.
Smoke and ash from the so-called Caldor fire raging through drought-parched forests in northern California's Sierra Nevada mountains has choked the normally pristine skies around Lake Tahoe for days, leading to an early exit by many tourists as flames inch closer.
Evacuations in and around the town of South Lake Tahoe came as the U.S. Forest Service said it was taking the unusual step of closing all 18 national forests in California to the public in the midst of a fire season already shaping up as one of the worst on record.
Traffic backed up as thousands tried to flee at once
Susan Ciaramella/ South Lake Tahoe Evacuee: "They were talking about the winds picking up today, pushing it towards Tahoe, so that's why they did the mandatory evacuation."
More than 6,800 wildfires have blackened an estimated 1.7 million acres within California alone this season - much of it on Forest Service property - putting 2021 on pace to surpass last year's record amount of landscape consumed by flames.
The Caldor blaze near Lake Tahoe has emerged as one of the most destructive and disruptive this summer, spreading across more than 177,000 acres since Aug. 14, with firefighters managing to carve containment lines around just 14% of its perimeter as of Monday