Election Section

Firefighters subdue blaze
in Lake Tahoe wildlands

By Brendan Riley, The Associated Press
Friday July 05, 2002

STATELINE, Nev. — Firefighters on land and in the air edged toward victory Thursday over a blaze that hit this tourism destination on the July Fourth weekend, burning some 672 wooded acres between a California ski resort and Nevada casinos at Lake Tahoe’s south shore. 

“We really did throw everything at it as quick as we could,” said Laura Williams, spokeswoman for the Sierra Front Fire Dispatch Center in Minden, Nev. 

The assault paid off as some 657 firefighters, aided by calmer winds and higher humidity, succeeded in cutting a line around 60 percent of the burn area less than 24 hours after the fire broke out. 

“The fire behavior is real low,” Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman said. 

After an initial assault that included air tankers and helicopters, he said only helicopters were being used on Thursday as the fire died down. 

Full containment was forecast for Sunday, although Norman said it could come sooner. Control was expected by Wednesday. 

And the annual July Fourth fireworks display remained on schedule. The fireworks explode over the lake north of the fire. 

While flames licked within a few yards of exclusive homes and condominiums perched above the lake, no structures were damaged. Several thousand people voluntarily left their homes as the fire approached. 

Dan Garrison, general manager of The Ridge Tahoe said some 1,500 guests either were asked to leave or were turned away when they tried to return. Parts of the resort were coated with a fire-retardant mud as the flames neared. 

“I feel pretty good today. I wouldn’t have said the same thing last night,” he said on Thursday. 

The fire broke out just after noon on Wednesday under a gondola on the California side of the line that carries wintertime skiers and summertime sightseers up the scenic mountain at Heavenly ski area. 

Whipped by gusty winds, the flames pushed northeast into Nevada, threatening the homes and closing the twisting road that links the Minden-Gardnerville area in the Carson Valley with the lake. 

The winds died down at dusk, giving hand crews a chance to start building a line around the fire, Norman said. Humidity from the lake also helped retard the fire’s growth. 

The size of the fire was estimated at 200 acres Wednesday night. Norman said Thursday’s 672-acre estimate didn’t reflect expansion, but more accurate measuring. 

The fire was burning in a heavily wooded area that is off limits to skiers. Dead and dying trees are scattered among the living pines as a result of drought and bark beetle infestations, fire officials said. 

Robert O’Donald, a contractor whose home lay within the area targeted for evacuation, had been working on a remodeling job in Turlock when he heard about the fire. 

“I thought it was gone. It’s a relief to see it’s still here,” he said on Thursday. 

But as he packed some personal items, he added, “It’s not over yet. It’s a nightmare.” 


Associated Press writer Tom Gardner contributed to this report.