Flames from the Caldor Fire near the Pioneer community on Sunday night. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Residents and tourists in communities near popular Lake Tahoe fled on Monday as the Caldor Fire roared closer after sweeping across dried-out forests in California’s devastating summer of blazes.

Dry fuel and up-slope canyon winds helped fan the fire over almost 10,000 more acres since Sunday, according to Cal Fire. The fire, which has spread across 177,260 acres, is 14% contained.

Evacuation orders have been issued for several areas, including a portion of El Dorado County south of Lake Tahoe. The lake borders Nevada and is a beloved area in which to swim, hike and camp.

“There is fire activity in California that we have never seen before,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said in a briefing Monday. He said blazes are destroying homes and wilderness across both sides of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Hotel owner Neil Panchal and his family were up until around 3 a.m. packing up clothes, medicine and food so they could leave their South Lake Tahoe home in El Dorado County on Monday morning for Nevada.

“We’ve been here so long, and we’ve never seen anything like this. The kids were crying,” Panchal, 42, told Reuters as he, his wife, their two children and his in-laws prepared to drive off through smoke he said was already hurting his throat.

“First COVID, and now this on top of it,” said Panchal, who owns two hotels in the area, both of which have been evacuated.

Evacuations were ordered for all of South Lake Tahoe, which has approximately 22,000 residents. First responders went door to door urging people to leave, and local jails were also emptied, California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said at the briefing.

Traffic backed up as thousands tried to flee, and Ghilarducci said there had been “a lot of issues related to the evacuation in South Lake Tahoe.” He said the state was working with local officials on planning for a safe and orderly evacuation.

The Caldor fire has destroyed over 472 structures so far. The fire has also led to five injuries to firefighters and civilians, according to the department’s website.

California, which typically has experienced its peak fire season in late summer and fall, is already on pace to see more of its landscape go up in flames this year than last, the worst year on record.

Updated at 2:25 p.m., Monday, Aug. 30, 2021

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