Thousands of people were evacuated out of South Lake Tahoe as the Caldor Fire approached the tourist areas surrounding the lake on Monday. Those evacuating had to deal not only with the impending fires, but with massive traffic jams as folks loaded up their cars and drove to safety, as reported by the Sacramento Bee. Evacuations were underway yesterday, but for live updates, see this report from the San Francisco Chronicle.
The wildfires in California are a sad reality. I won’t call it commonplace because no matter how frequent these horrible fires have become, there’s nothing common about the destruction they’ve wrought. That said, honestly, common is where California is headed with regards to wildfires, as even the chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection stated on Monday:
Firefighters have been struggling against the fire for two weeks now, but the fire is such that it’s still just 15 percent contained. It’s already burned “over 276 square miles, and destroyed more than 470 homes,” according to USA TODAY.
The South Lake Tahoe police department claimed that the traffic jams were unavoidable, as the Bee reports. The police department said that the highways couldn’t be used for “one-way traffic since too many fire trucks needed to come in from the other direction.”
So, drivers had no choice but to wait in the traffic jams for hours, as the Bee described:
...[In] the heart of South Lake Tahoe, traffic headed east out of town was gridlocked in all directions. Vehicles barely budged for hours, and then started easing up a bit by mid-afternoon.
“Nothing’s moving,” said Emilie Hook, standing outside her Toyota Tacoma pickup that was parked in traffic at the intersection. “I figured it would be bad but not this bad.”
The traffic jams did clear in places, and where traffic died down the only vehicles stirring on the road were bulldozers and emergency vehicles. That “eerie stillness” came only after long hours in traffic, and things didn’t get better for drivers who made it out of California because the gridlock stretched into Nevada, according to the Bee:
Josh Darrow was parked on the road nearby, his dog, Kirk, in the bed of his pickup. He lined up in the gridlock at exactly 12:06 p.m. and budged about 30 feet in 2 hours.
By 2:15 p.m. both Darrow and Hook finally rounded the corner from Hwy 89 onto Hwy 50, the main route out of town. A miles-long crawl out of California and into Nevada awaited them.
You can read the whole report from the Sacramento Bee here. It’s worth looking at, if only to get a sense of what the fires and the evacuations were really like.
It’s bad. It looks as horrifying as a scene out of a movie. Except these are real, nightmarish scenes of folks stuck in traffic, set against a backdrop of wildfires looming on the not-so-distant horizon.