GRIZZLY FLATS (CBS SF) -- Weeks after the Caldor Fire roared up Highway 50 into the Tahoe Basin, state officials reopened a stretch of the roadway Sunday as residents began an emotional return to neighborhoods razed by the blaze in the El Dorado County community of Grizzly Flats.
President Joe Biden also signed a declaration of emergency for the fire, freeing up federal dollars to help with the recovery efforts. He planned to deliver remarks on the ongoing wildfire season during a visit Monday to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
He then will travel to Sacramento, where he'll make a recall campaign stop in support of Gov. Gavin Newsom and survey wildfire damage.
By Sunday afternoon, containment of the Caldor Fire had grown to 65% with the burn zone stretching 218,950 acres. The blaze has destroyed 1,003 structures including several hundred homes in Grizzly Flats.
Cal Fire West Zone Operations Chief Brian Mackwood said the next 24 hours will be filled with emotions as residents return to fire-ravaged community. Homes, businesses and cherish possessions were reduced to piles of ash and rumble as the fire ripped through the community of just over 1,000 residents who were forced to quickly evacuate.
"I want to just send out a special note to those folks," Mackwood said. "As you pushed in there, I know there are going to be some emotions. Some good and probably some not so great...We will take care of you...Even if that is just a hug."
Fresno Fire Department Deputy Marshal Jay Tracy among the firefighters who came to the area to fight the fire echoed those sentiments.
"As you can imagine, losing a home is pretty traumatic," Tracy said. "So we come out and walk through that with them."
Bryan and Linda Katt were among the lucky ones. The flames spared their home along String Canyon Road. The flames burned across the street, but they didn't crossover to their property.
"I didn't think that we would have a home to come back to," Linda said.
Bryan said awaiting word of the fate their home kept them on edge for three weeks.
"The not knowing for three weeks and then getting that emergency alert saying you can go home was incredible," he said. "But I just feel for all the people around us who lost their homes."
Jeff Cornett said he had braced himself to return to a home destroyed by the fire.
"It was a little bit emotional, but I knew for the most part I knew what I was coming here to see," he said. "The spark of all this devastation, the goodness, is what I can put back into this property."
Mackwood said by the end of the day, Highway 50 will be reopened all the way to Kyburz. The fire, which ignited on Aug. 14 near Sly Park Road, roared down the highway connecting Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe and eventually burned over Echo Summit.
The highway still remains closed from 36 Mile Stone to Sawmill Road, within a few miles of South Lake Tahoe, according to the California Department of Transportation.
Elsewhere, the El Dorado sheriff downgraded evacuation orders to warnings for:
- Christmas Valley -- All residences accessed from Highway 89 south of Highway 50 in Meyers through Christmas Valley and including all of South Upper Truckee.
The following evacuation warnings have been lifted in El Dorado County:
- Highway 89 North- All properties on the east (lake side) of Highway 89 extending north from the city limits to Emerald Bay. All properties on both sides of Highway 89 extending north from Emerald Bay through Tahoma. The National Forest is still closed and the area of Fallen Leaf Lake is still under an evacuation order.
- South Lake Tahoe City Limits described as, from the Nevada State line west along Highway 50 to the Tahoe airport. Highway 89 from the city northwest to the city's edge at West Way. Also, Pioneer Trail from state line west to Al Tahoe Blvd.
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