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‘Kyburz is directly in path’ of Caldor Fire as gusty winds push flames – San Francisco Chronicle

Gusty winds pushed the voracious Caldor Fire northeast Saturday afternoon toward the tiny town of Kyburz on a closed stretch of Highway 50 in El Dorado County.

“We are experiencing increased winds, which is causing significant fire activity,” said Keith Wade, a Sacramento Fire Department captain who was acting as a spokesperson on the Caldor Fire response. “There is definitely progression of the fire … and the community of Kyburz is directly in its path.”

Kyburz has fewer than 200 residents and a relative handful of buildings but it’s well known to Lake Tahoe visitors for its sign: “Welcome to Kyburz. Now Leaving Kyburz” and its frequent use as a spot where drivers are often required to pull over in snowstorms and put chains on their tires.

The fire, which broke out seven days ago, expanded to 82,444 acres on Saturday morning and remained 0% contained. The quick, wind- and drought-driven blaze already wiped out the small town of Grizzly Flats in El Dorado County, where it’s destroyed 245 structures and prompted multiple evacuation orders. It grew by another 7,000 acres overnight and continued to darken skies and force the shutdown of the main route between the Bay Area and South Lake Tahoe.

Cal Fire and the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office released a damage assessment map detailing the extent of destruction, with photos showing some homes with minor burn scars and others reduced to piles of gray debris, sometimes with only stone chimneys or fireplaces left standing.

Following Caltrans’ announcement on Friday afternoon to shut down roughly 40 miles of Highway 50, it remained largely closed to traffic between Pollock Pines and Meyers, including Echo Summit. Some local traffic was being allowed through. No estimated time for reopening of the highway was available.

“The fire remained active in all areas,” Cal Fire said in a statement. “Due to very dry fuel beds, the vegetation is igniting easily. There are heavy dead and down fuels throughout the fire area.”

Wade said the area has no recent history of wildfire, is drought-stricken, dense and bone dry. Firefighters are reporting embers carried by the winds starting spot fires a half mile to a mile away.

“They’re definitely in a firefight today,” he said.

Authorities on Saturday afternoon issued an evacuation order for the Caldor Fire for the areas south of Farmham Ridge Road and east of Bridgeport School Road to the Amador County line.

Aside from the closure of Highway 50, and smoke that’s diminished air quality, South Lake Tahoe has yet to be directly affected by the fire. No evacuations or warnings have been issued but city officials activated their emergency operations center Saturday morning “to ensure we have the best information to keep you safe,” City Manager Joe Irvin said in a video message on social media.

The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for large swaths of El Dorado, Placer, Nevada and Sierra counties, signaling weather events that could result in extreme fire behavior over the next 24 hours.

Farther north, the Dixie Fire grew overnight by nearly 10,000 acres, to 714,219 acres. That fire, which broke out July 14 near Cresta Dam and the Feather River Canyon, remained 35% contained Saturday afternoon, according to Doug Ulibarri, a fire spokesman.

Firefighters were battling not only the persistent flames but gusting winds and a red flag warning expected to last into the night. Cal Fire said that a switch in wind direction on the east side of the fire forced firefighters to scramble.

“Portions of the fire that were wind sheltered the previous two days became active and threatened control lines,” Cal Fire said. On the west side of the blaze, Cal Fire said slightly higher humidity “limited the fire activity somewhat.”

The Dixie Fire, which has been burning since July 14, was expected to be most active in the Westwood, Clear Creek Janesville, Milford, Taylorville and Genessee Valley areas, Ulibarri said. While the winds drive the flames, they also keep smoke from settling, allowing firefighters to use large fixed-wing air tankers to drop loads of bright orange fire retardant on the flames.

“We’re still fighting against Mother Nature, and she’s throwing her best punches at us,” he said. “We’re fighting back, but it’s tough.”

Michael Cabanatuan and Steve Rubenstein are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: mcabanatuan@sfchronicle.com, srubenstein@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ctuan, @SteveRubeSF

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