Fire fighters fear thunderstorms could worsen Tahoe Forest fire |

Fire fighters fear thunderstorms could worsen Tahoe Forest fire

Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer

While the American Fire in the Tahoe National Forest near Foresthill has continued to grow to nearly 13,000 acres, responding crews battling the blaze had it approximately 45 percent contained by Sunday.

However, fire suppression crews are keeping a cautious eye on possible thunderstorms that could further complicate the effort to stamp out the inferno, as lightning strikes could spark more fires.

With a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms beginning Sunday evening through Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued a Fire Weather Watch beginning Monday morning.

Changing weather patterns are likely to affect fire behavior and smoke dispersal patterns, the weather service cautioned.

A Fire Weather Watch for lightning has also been issued starting Monday morning for most of the mountains and foothills of Northern California. The thunderstorms are expected to initially be dry, which will heighten the fire danger, but should begin to bring some rainfall by midweek, according to the weather and U.S. Forest services.

Amid the American Fire's spread, the Tahoe National Forest issued a voluntary evacuation notice for Big Oak Flat, an area located near the south end of the fire.

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Three structures have been consumed by the blaze, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which describes all of them as out buildings, not primary residences or businesses.

Among the nearly 1,500 responding personnel, four minor injuries have been reported — no civilians have been reportedly injured by the fire, a forest service spokeswoman said.

The fire is reportedly posing some challenges because of extremely steep terrain and heavy fuels that have not burned in more than a decade, which is creating large amounts of smoke that reach the Sierra foothills, Tahoe area and Sacramento Valley.

Several counties have issued air quality warnings, and those planning to visit area campgrounds and other recreation sites may experience intermittent heavy smoke. Smoky conditions may last for several days.

The forest services estimated it would be at least 10 days before the fire is fully contained.

The fire is one of the more significant of the 10 blazes in California, where more than 5,000 firefighters are on the front lines, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, which is assisting on the American Fire.

While many of these statewide fires are in remote areas, several fires have forced hundreds of residents to evacuate.

The National Weather Service also issued a Red Flag Warning due to the possibility of dry lightning in combination with gusty winds for many of the coastal counties from Mendocino down to Monterey. The warning goes into effect Monday at midnight and is expected to last through Wednesday.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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