South Lake Tahoe (United States) (AFP)
Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate on Monday as a massive forest fire loomed over a major US tourist site, filling the air with choking smoke.
The Caldor fire has already devastated more than 270 square miles (700 square kilometers), razing hundreds of buildings.
On Monday, it roared towards South Lake Tahoe, the main resort in the popular vacation area that straddles the California-Nevada border.
“The conditions for fighting the fire, the fuels, are historic,” Cal Fire incident commander Jeff Veik said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re going to put out this fire. It won’t be today.”
The western United States is burning at an alarming rate, with more than 2,700 square miles blackened by the end of August, more than double the area consumed at that time in an average year.
The fires are sparked by a historic drought that has left entire swathes of the region parched, as human-made climate change takes visible – and painful – devastation and people living in the region are forced to flee.
“I received a hit at 10pm last night with a warning to be ready,” South Lake Tahoe resident Corinne Kobel told the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
“At 10 o’clock this morning, the sheriffs kicked us out. I’m freaking out.”
Kobel was among 22,000 people ordered to leave their homes Monday morning, joining tens of thousands of others who have been forced to flee by the relentless march of fires.
An AFP journalist witnessed the flow of traffic leaving the city, with cars and motorhomes obstructing the main roads.
On Sunday, as the blaze ravaged the Twin Bridges area, there were incongruous scenes as the flames raged around the ski lifts.
The Caldor Fire began on August 14 and quickly spread through the Eldorado National Forest.
Smoke from the blaze has threatened tourist sites around Lake Tahoe for the past week, filling the air with a choking haze.
Alpine Lake is known for its clear waters and the areas around it offer spectacular scenery, including some of the most popular ski resorts in the western United States.
The blaze is one of many in the region that is straining the resources of local firefighters.
Further north, the massive Dixie Fire ravaged over 1,100 square miles in the six weeks following its eruption.
Thousands of firefighters and other emergency personnel are involved in fighting the fires, which are fanned by gusts of wind and fed by dry fuel.
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