SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (Reuters) - Firefighters began containing a wildfire near California’s popular Lake Tahoe resort on Monday after it engulfed 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) and destroyed or damaged more than 200 homes, officials said.
Fanned by high winds, the blaze raged out of control on Sunday, but 700 firefighters managed on Monday to contain 5 percent to 10 percent of the fire, El Dorado County Sheriff Jeff Neves told reporters.
In the state capital of Sacramento, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi declared a state of emergency for El Dorado County, allowing the state to help cover the costs of fighting the fire. Garamendi was acting in place of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is in Europe.
Firefighters had briefed the two on Monday morning by telephone and Garamendi told reporters Schwarzenegger is “very much aware of what is happening here and has committed whatever resources are necessary.”
The fire broke out on Sunday afternoon and authorities believe it was started by people, either intentionally or accidentally. Winds initially blew it toward Lake Tahoe through bone-dry wooded terrain around South Lake Tahoe, a vacation community on North America’s largest alpine lake, near the Nevada border.
About 1,000 residents fled blinding ash and suffocating heat under mandatory evacuation orders. No injuries were reported but some 200 homes were damaged, with 173 of them destroyed. Another 500 structures remain threatened.
“Neither my husband nor I brought clothes,” said Renee Gorevin, 50. “I brought my dog and made sure my son and daughter got out.”
Winds of 30 mph (48 kph) with gusts of 45 mph (72 kmh) made it difficult for the firefighters on the ground to control the fire on Sunday. As chunks of ash dropped miles from the fire, helicopters dumped buckets of water filled from Lake Tahoe and aircraft dropped retardant on the fire.
Slower winds on Monday gave firefighters hope they could keep the blaze in check.
The Lake Tahoe fire came as the most populous U.S. state braced for a tough fire season after an unusually dry winter.
As fire crews battled the Lake Tahoe blaze, a 6,000-acre (2,500-hectare) fire 80 miles north of Los Angeles forced evacuation of some residents of Rosamond, California.
Separately, fire crews in Alaska pressed on with their fight against a blaze on the Kenai Peninsula that has consumed about 80 square miles of forest.
Additional reporting by Dean Goodman in Los Angeles and Jenny O'Mara in Sacramento, California