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Tahoe fire jumps line

Times Staff Writers

After a day when firefighters seemed to be making steady progress, the Angora fire this afternoon jumped a northern perimeter, forcing a new round of evacuations, officials said.

The breach just south of Highway 89 took place about 3 p.m., according to Sgt. Don Atkinson of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department. Between 300 and 400 homes were threatened.

Protecting the northern fire line and residences in the heavily populated area had been a major priority for firefighters as they used helicopter drops and other techniques to fight the blaze, Atkinson said.

“It looks like the wind maybe picked up and the fire changed direction,” Atkinson said. “It’s pretty heavily populated, it’s pretty condensed, there’s several hundred homes right there.... Everybody’s going emergency speed to get there and get out.”

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Atkinson said the fire’s moving north could threaten 800 to 900 additional homes near where highways 50 and 89 split -- near the downtown area and the South Tahoe High School.

The latest news was a blow to those fighting the blaze, which began Sunday afternoon. Officials estimate the fire is about 40% contained; it was expected to be fully controlled by Sunday.

The cost of fighting the fire is expected to be about $30 million, not counting personal property losses, which include 275 homes and structures. No injuries have been reported.

Weather remains a key concern for firefighters. Officials forecast that the winds would pick up speed Wednesday and that humidity would drop, conditions that usually hinder firefighting.

Incident commander Rich Hawkins of the U.S. Forest Service said it was critical to stop the fire today before the weather worsened.

“One small hot spot and the fire could escape,” he said before news of the jumped fire line was reported.

Hawkins said he hoped the fire could be contained in a couple of days but that he didn’t want to be overconfident.

Hawkins said firefighters made great progress Monday night and early today because most of the fires that had burned near the town had been extinguished.

“That part of the fire closest to the community is burned out and contained,” he said.

Once mop-up of that area is completed, he said, the 40% containment figure would probably be raised.

As of today’s morning briefing, the Angora fire had burned 2,730 acres south of Lake Tahoe and west of Fallen Leaf Lake. It had destroyed about 200 residences and 75 outbuildings, Capt. Chuck Dixon of the Kern County Fire Department said.

About 145 fire engines, 54 crews and 11 helicopters are being used to fight the fire, Sgt. Atkinson said.

Some of the 1,000 people forced to flee began returning today. Mandatory evacuations are still in effect for the Tahoe Paradise, Fallen Leaf Campground, Tahoe Mountain and Upper Angora areas. Gardner Mountain was on standby.

The cause of the blaze remained under investigation, but officials believe it was connected to human activity.

eric.bailey@latimes.com

lee.romney@latimes.com

tami.abdollah@latimes.com

Times staff writers Steve Chawkins, Tim Reiterman, Joel Rubin, Stuart Silverstein and Francisco Vara-Orta contributed to this report.


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