A nearly two-week-old wildfire in Alpine County grew in size and intensity Friday evening, speeding to the outskirts of Markleeville, the county seat, and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents and visitors.
According to the US Forest Service's Humboldt-Toiyabe division, the Tamarack Fire grew from 500 acres to 6,600 acres overnight.
The Forest Service claimed in a recent incident assessment, "The fire continues to burn in a northerly direction retreating towards Highway 89 south of Markleeville towards the Carson River." Authorities said the fire was burning in woods and brush, and that airborne resources would help in the construction of hand lines and the defense of properties on the ground.
The fire had spread beyond Markleeville and crossed Highway 89 by Saturday afternoon, forcing officials to evacuate Alpine Village and Woodfords. Winds forming in the afternoon are “contributing to significant rates of fire spread to the northwest, west of Highway 89,” according to Forest Service authorities.
According to a Saturday morning update, some 75 firefighters were on the scene, but “additional suppression resources have been summoned and will be coming throughout the day,” officials stated.
There have been reports of modest building damage in Markleeville, which was near the epicenter of the magnitude-6 earthquake earlier this month. The Alpine County Sheriff's Office posted on social media that three structures had been damaged, but that they didn't know where they were.
Lightning started the fire on July 4, but it stayed tiny and dormant until Friday when it erupted. Officials with the Forest Service earlier stated that they would be monitoring the fire but would not be dispatching workers to put it out.
On July 10, when the fire was just a quarter-acre wide, the Forest Service noted, “The tactical management choice is not to insert fire crews due to safety concerns, but, this is not an unresponsive approach.” “(The Tamarack Fire) is encircled by granite cliffs, a tiny lake, and limited fuels. The public, infrastructure, or resource values are not threatened by fire.”
At approximately 8:30 p.m., the Alpine County Sheriff's Office imposed mandatory evacuation orders for Markleeville, Marklee Village, East Fork Resort, Grover Hot Springs, Shay Creek, and other adjacent locations. The fire has shut down Highways 4, 88, and 89 in the region.
“The Tamarack fire is spreading quickly and fiercely... It's a life-or-death scenario. In a social media post, the Sheriff's Office wrote, "Please get out when advised."
The Alpine Early Learning Center, located at 100 Foothill Road, has been designated as an evacuation center.
The flames sent towers of smoke throughout Alpine County, California's least-populated county with just 1,200 inhabitants, as well as the south coast of Lake Tahoe on Friday evening.
The annual Tour of the California Alps - Death Ride endurance competition, which was to be completed by 2,500 cyclists, has been canceled due to the fire.
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