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California firefighters are concerned that wind could spread a wildfire burning near the resort town of South Lake Tahoe. The fire started on Sunday, with wind whipping flames through forestland. More than 2,000 people have been evacuated and some 200 homes were destroyed. The fire flared up again yesterday and now more homes are threatened as Tamara Keith reports from member station KQED.
TAMARA KEITH: Until yesterday afternoon, firefighters were optimistic that they had a handle on the blaze. It had already caused significant damage, but it wasn't done. The winds kicked up, a tree ignited and the flames quickly jumped a firebreak. Mandatory evacuation orders of a further 2,000 residents quickly followed.
(Soundbite of sirens)
KEITH: This is the intersection of Highway 50 and Highway 89 and there are just cars streaming down the mountain. They're evacuating, and you can tell because their cars are full with belongings, probably some of their most prized possessions.
Ms. JEN CLAUDIO(ph): I took a few pictures off the wall that can't be replaced, photo albums, underwear to get us through the days, toothbrushes.
KEITH: Jen Claudio and her family fled to a strip mall parking lot down the hill from their home.
Ms. CLAUDIO: It's a scary thought thinking that everything you have could go. I know a lot of people have lost it and I was feeling real bad for them; I still am. You know, it's a terrible, terrible thing, yeah.
KEITH: No structures were lost in yesterday's flare up, but fire officials can't say when it will be safe for residents to return. South Lake Tahoe is a resort town so there are many vacation homes here. But the areas hit hardest by the blaze are the neighborhoods on the outskirts where many year-round residents live. These homes sit in national forestlands. The beauty of these wooded surroundings is both a powerful draw to homeowners and what set them up for devastation.
Jeff Michael is chief of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, which includes the entire area of the fire.
Mr. JEFF MICHAEL (Chief, Lake Valley Fire Protection District): Yeah, we knew it. You know, the potential was huge and we've been worrying about it and thinking about it. And I am sorry to say this, but if you look around the basin, it's going to happen again. I just hope it doesn't happen again in my lifetime.
KEITH: He says there has never been a fire this large and destructive in the Tahoe basin. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith in South Lake Tahoe.
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