US President Joe Biden has approved a declaration of emergency for the state of California and federal assistance to help firefighters combat the Caldor Fire – a sprawling blaze near the popular tourist destination of Lake Tahoe.
The White House announced the moves late on Wednesday as crews fought back the wind-driven wildfire, managing to save South Lake Tahoe, the largest town along the rim of North America’s largest alpine lake.
The blaze broke out on August 14 and has since charred more than 82,500 hectares (204,000 acres) of drought-parched timber.
Late Wednesday, fire crews deployed from around the country had managed to carve so-called containment lines around just 23 percent of the fire, which had destroyed at least 700 homes and other buildings and forced the evacuation of an estimated 50,000 people.
Jason Hunter, a spokesman for the Caldor incident command, told Reuters news agency that crews had “steered the fire away” from South Lake Tahoe, where more tightly packed buildings could have spelled further devastation.
The fire was now moving to the northeast, towards the California-Nevada border. Evacuations have been ordered in the neighbouring state.
After three days of strong winds accelerated the spread of the fire, authorities offered tentative hope that calming winds going into Saturday could calm the blaze.