To Save Lake Tahoe, They Spared No Expense. The Fire Came Over the Ridge Anyway.


Controlled burns that embrace Indigenous methods to use “good” fire to fight destructive megafires has become an increasingly accepted method in recent years, but experts say that the state has a lot of catching up to do.

Until then, attempts to suppress fire are inevitably required to save lives and property. In the past year, California spent more than $1 billion on emergency fire suppression efforts but slashed its prevention budget. This year’s budget includes more than $500 million for fire prevention, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in April.

Still, resources remain strained. The U.S. Forest Service has struggled to retain federal firefighters, who earn around half of their state counterparts’ pay at Cal Fire. When the Caldor Fire ballooned to 6,500 acres in mid-August, just 242 firefighters had been assigned to it. Eventually, hundreds more were redeployed from the Dixie Fire, which has so far razed more than 800,000 acres and was still less than half contained by Tuesday morning.

On the receiving end of the worsening fires are the residents who wonder where, if anywhere, will be safe from wildfire.

Among the evacuees from South Lake Tahoe on Monday were Darren Cobrae, a real estate investor, and his partner, Stephanie Cothern, who was driving the couple’s car toward the Nevada state line.

Inside were bags of clothing, two large parrots and three dogs, Banana, Freddy and Copper.

Mr. Cobrae said he moved to South Lake Tahoe from Southern California, where his home was nearly burned in a wildfire in 2007.

“I figured I would be safe in this city,” Mr. Cobrae said. “And now this,” he said, pointing to a sky thickening with smoke.

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