Tahoe is home to special places that await the fate of a fire

As the winds returned this week, the Caldor Fire roared above a ridge in the Sierra Nevada and bore down on Lake Tahoe's southern end.

Tahoe is home to special places that await the fate of a fire

This fire is more famous than any other wildfires in Western America. Tahoe is a popular international destination. It's a stunning backdrop for weddings and a shining jewel in John Muir’s Range of Light.

The postcard photos of Emerald Bay are just as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Tahoe and its granite ridges and forests, as well as the rivers and streams surrounding it, are more than just that. The region is familiar to millions of Northern Californians. It is less than two hours away from Sacramento and its 2.3million residents, and an hour from San Francisco Bay Area.

In a typical summer, the Eldorado National Forest, where the Caldor Fire has cut wide path of destruction, would be filled with day hikers, backpackers, campers, kayakers and paddleboarders. Many of the cabins on the South Fork are now reduced to ash and would be filled by families from Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Similar cabins are awaiting their fate in the woods near South Lake Tahoe, despite warnings of severe weather coming.

The Caldor Fire is a symbol of the region that has been so important to many. It has attracted the attention Californians and other people with special connections to the area like none before.

WHERE HAS FIRE BURNS?

South Lake Tahoe is at risk, a city of 22,000 located on the Nevada-California border. Tuesday saw that the threat became more real as wind-driven embers began to blaze in the valley, igniting smaller fires at the outskirts.

The fire, which had started at Echo Summit and destroyed hundreds of homes, was already raging through thousands of densely forested acres. It also ripped through the Highway 50 corridor between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, one of two major routes connecting Sacramento with Lake Tahoe.

This isn't all bad news. Fire crews saved Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort from major damage over the weekend before they roared towards Tahoe. It's unpretentious, affordable and well-liked for its "certified unserious” vibe. Also, season passes at a lower price make it popular with parents who want their children to learn to ski and snowboard.

Camp Sacramento, a 100 year-old family camp on Forest Service land near the ski resort, was also saved by fire crews. The camp is a popular destination for families who come to it every summer with their children. A cabin that has an electric outlet is considered a luxury. This is where children line up to ring a camp bell before dinner. Then they gather in age groups such as Minnows, Chipmunks, or Marmots to tie-dye and archery. At night, there are s'mores and singalongs around a protected campfire.

Further up Highway 50, at the top of Echo Summit is the Echo Chalet. This cluster of cabins dates back to the 1940s and was in the path the flames before it was evacuated. It is perhaps most well-known for its ability to transport water across Twin Lake to the trailhead into Desolation Wilderness. This popular backcountry of granite, lakes and rivers was created by glaciers and is currently being tested by fire.

WHAT IS SOUTH LAKE TAHOE LIKE?

Split screen on the south shore. One screen shows the Nevada side's high-rise casinos and their gambling crowds. They had a great street party on New Year's Eve. This was at least before the outbreak of coronavirus. Heavenly Resort is located in both New York and Pennsylvania and is known for its iconic lake views, powder skiing and party atmosphere.

South Lake Tahoe is not all bad. Many of the year-round residents wouldn't consider themselves glamorous or glitzy. They work as wait staff, waitstaff, bartenders and ski instructors.

Just 65% of the state's median household income is $49,000, which is roughly 49,000 below the median. The pandemic has seen rents and home prices rise, which has squeezed the majority of the town's middle-income and working-class residents. These are not only tourists but also evacuees, who fled the flames.

WHAT IS THE FIRE'S PATH?

The Caldor Fire continues its dominance over a large firefighting force. The fire has already burned up to the Sierra Crest and is now expanding its reach to popular recreation areas in the Tahoe region. Crews are working to keep it away from Kirkwood, another ski resort located about 30 miles (48 km) south of Tahoe. Kirkwood is home to trout-fishing lakes and hiking trails, as well as the quaking stands of quaking apen that are bursting with gold in autumn.

As the fire grows closer to South Lake Tahoe it threatens landmarks, campgrounds and summer cabins as well as places that have been treasured by generations of tourists.

Fallen Leaf Lake is another cerulean postcard. It's home to a Forest Service campground, cabins, and a Stanford University summer conference center.

Camp Richardson, a lakeshore stretch with tents and cabins (and the ice cream parlor that may have the most popular in Tahoe), is a summer tradition that has been around since the 1920s.

If the fire reaches Emerald Bay, Vikingsholm will be there. This replica of a Scandinavian castle has been around for almost a century, and is now part of a state-owned park. It has a traditional sod roof, as if to defy California's ever-worsening wildfire seasons.

The Eagle Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails in Tahoe, and it would be the first place where the Caldor Fire could reach Emerald Bay. Non-drought years see snowmelt fall from the Sierra Crest and cascade over the boulders above Emerald Bay. This creates a stunning photo that tourists from all around the globe enjoy every summer.

That postcard photo is filled with smoke, fire, and fear this summer. The Range of Light has exploded into a flame and there's no stopping it.

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