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Caldor Fire racing toward Lake Tahoe: "I'm afraid it's going to burn down the jewel of California"

Caldor Fire bears down on South Lake Tahoe
Firefighters working to protect South Lake Tahoe from fast-moving Caldor Fire 02:52

Crews in California are in a desperate fight to stop the Caldor Fire as it races toward heavily populated areas around Lake Tahoe. Flames are now just three miles from the resort city of South Lake Tahoe, which hasn't seen danger like this in decades. Tens of thousands of homes there are under threat.

The fire has already burned more than 300 square miles and destroyed hundreds of homes. Around 50,000 people are under evacuation orders.

Firefighters spent hours Tuesday dousing spot fires, working to save as many homes as possible and trying to hold back a massive wall of flames.  

They're facing gusts of more than 35 miles per hour as the fire continues to move farther into the Tahoe Basin. Military aircraft at 18,000 feet are sending back infrared images to guide firefighters to hot spots hidden by the thick smoke.

"Very, very sensitive sensors can pick up any signature of heat," said Joel Kerley, a Department of the Interior bureau aviation manager. "We'll plot it, we'll get that down to the firefighter on the ground, and they can go attack it."

Snow-making machines were running full-force Tuesday night as firefighters moved in to protect the heavenly ski resort from the fast-moving flames. The densely forested areas haven't seen significant wildfires in more than 80 years.

"This one's really scary and I'm afraid it's going to burn down the jewel of California," Glen Naasz, an evacuee, said.

Even wildlife has been forced to seek refuge from the flames. As the erratic fire closes in on the now-deserted resort paradise, fire crews are ready for battle.

"The same winds are coming through, these areas are ridden with strong heavy fuels that can easily ignite, spread this fire quickly," Sacramento Fire Department captain Keith Wade said.

Nearly 4,000 firefighters and more than 1,000 members of the California National Guard are battling the fire at this point.

The CBSN documentary "Bring Your Own Brigade" captures the horror and heroism of the deadliest week of wildfires in California history and explores the causes and solutions of a global crisis. Stream it now on the CBS News app or Paramount+.

"Bring Your Own Brigade" 02:00:07
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