As smoke clears, officials optimistic about Lake Tahoe fire | PostIndependent.com
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As smoke clears, officials optimistic about Lake Tahoe fire

SCOTT LINDLAWAssociated Press WriterGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) Relieved residents awoke to cobalt, smoke-free skies Friday as fire officials announced they had turned the corner in fighting a wildfire that threatened thousands of homes and the tourist trade in this resort community.After a second straight day of mild winds allowed firefighters to surround the blaze, U.S. Forest Service commanders said they planned to reduce their force by one-fourth and allow residents of an area where 254 structures were destroyed to inspect the wreckage for the first time.Firefighters came in this morning and felt even more comfortable about the approaching containment of this fire, incident commander Rich Hawkins said at a morning update. Im feeling pretty good about it.A total of 3,500 people have been evacuated since the fire broke out Sunday, but with the blaze 70 percent contained and the outlook for full containment promising, authorities lifted evacuation orders in some neighborhoods and downgraded mandatory orders to voluntary in others.The amount of land burned held steady at 3,100 acres, or 4.7 square miles, as of Friday, according to Hawkins. With new fires breaking out in other parts of the country, 500 of the more than 2,100 Forest Service personnel working in the Lake Tahoe Basin would be deployed elsewhere, he said.Hawkins said authorities had pinpointed the cause of the blaze and would announce it later Friday. He said he believed it was accidental.The decision to let homeowners back into the burned-out streets about seven miles from the lake where all the destroyed homes are located, even if the visits would be under police escort and limited to an hour, was welcome news to residents who had waited all week to see the devastation for themselves.We havent been able to have closure, said Che DeVol, who was told his home was totally destroyed by the fire. He and his father visited a victim-assistance center set up by various agencies at Tahoe Community College but he had yet to return to a family home of 22 years.To stand there and at least rake through our stuff, thats the hardest part, he said. They wont let us out there.A few people were so determined to sift through the ashes that they defied the evacuation orders and returned repeatedly on bicycles earlier Thursday. They were arrested for trespassing, said El Dorado Sheriffs Deputy Phil Chovanec.Fire officials attributed their rising confidence about the fire to a break in the weather that kept winds low on Thursday. The wind that did blow had delivered higher humidity, a welcome condition, said meteorologist Jim Wallman.Were calling it the swath of luck, Wallman said, pointing out a swath of high pressure on a satellite map represented by a dark streak.Officials cautioned, however, said it still was too early to declare victory, with forecasters saying winds could pick up again Friday and hotspots still smoldering in some areas.Dont be complacent. There are still hazards out there, Kit Bailey, a U.S. Forest Service chief, told hundreds of firefighters Friday morning. Its going to be a long, brutal summer.Associated Press Writers Amanda Fehd, Aaron C. Davis and Joe Mullin contributed to this report.


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