MARKLEEVILLE (CBS SF) — A determined band of firefighters battled the advancing flames of the raging Tamarack Fire early Sunday, keeping the blaze from entering the heart of the evacuated Sierra community of Markleeville.
As of Sunday evening, the growth of the fire had slowed somewhat. A 7 p.m. update from authorities put the fire at 23,078 acres in size.
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According to the U.S. Forest Service, evacuations were still in place Sunday evening for Markleeville, Grover’s Hot Springs Park and Campground, Shay Creek, Markleeville Village, the Poor Boy Road area, Carson River Resort, Sierra Pines, Upper and Lower Manzanita, Crystal Springs, Diamond Valley Road, Hung A Le Ti, Alpine Village and Woodfords.
The fire began as a small smoldering blaze ignited by lightning over the July Fourth holiday. While U.S Forest Service officials were monitoring it, the fire roared to life on Friday, quickly growing from 500 acres to more than 18,000 acres over the next 36 hours.
There was zero containment, but the rapidly growing number of firefighters brought in to battle the flames appeared to have save much of Markleeville after the fire nearly encircled the community on Saturday. The fire was advancing to the north away from the small mountain community.
The blaze initially overwhelmed the 50 firefighters who were monitoring the fire. By Sunday morning, the of number of firefighters had swelled to over 120.
On Sunday, the advancing flames forced federal park officials to shut down the Pacific Crest Trail between California State Route 88 and California State Route 4 (Ebbetts Pass).
“Failure to comply with closure may result in criminal and/or civil penalties, including up to $5,000 in fines and/or six months in jail,” rangers warned. “In addition, anyone found responsible for starting a wildfire can be held civilly and criminally liable.”
The trail spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and has attracted thousands of hikers. It is divided into five regions: Southern California, Central California, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.
Meanwhile, the fire has forced hundreds of residents from their homes in 14 small communities in the fire-stricken region southwest of South Lake Tahoe. Mandatory evacuations were in place for Markleeville, Grover’s Hot Springs Park and Campground, Shay Creek, Markleeville Village, East Fork Resort, Alpine Village and Woodfords areas.
Among those forced from their homes was Rodney Pryor, who lives in Shay Creek.
“They gave me a good couple of hours before they said, ‘You gotta get out now!’” he said. “So I got a whole lot of stuff into my RV. All my valuable things.”
While there were some encouraging signs in the firefight. Mother Nature was set to add a new challenge Sunday morning.
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The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the region starting at 11 a.m. Sunday and running until Monday morning. Dry lighting was also expected to rubble through the Tahoe area, heightening the wildfire threat.
Winds were expected to gust to 40 mph.
“A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly,” weather forecasters said. “A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior.”
At least two structures have been destroyed.
The blaze also forced the cancellation of Saturday’s “Death Ride,” a 103-mile bicycle ride in the so-called California Alps over three Sierra Nevada mountain passes.
Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near the town Friday so her husband could participate in his ninth ride when they were told to leave. They had been watching smoke develop over the course of the day but were caught off guard by the fire’s quick spread.
“It happened so fast,” Pennington said. “We left our tents, hammock and some foods, but we got most of our things, shoved our two kids in the car and left.”
Paul Burgess, who drove from Los Angeles to participate in the ride, said most of the cyclists he met were thankful to steer clear of the fire danger.
“They just said this is just how it goes,” Burgess said. “It’s part of climate change to a certain extent, it’s part of just a lot of fuels that are not burnt, the humidity is low, the fuel moisture levels are low, and … around the state, many parts of it are much like a tinderbox.”
For long-time residents, the flames and evacuation brought back memories of the 2012 Acorn Fire which burned through the area.
“Everything here has been rebuilt and this is the second time this area has been threatened,” said local resident Andrea Fierle.
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© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.