June 27, 2007 in Nation/World

Stronger winds fan Tahoe fire

Tim Reiterman and Lee Romney Los Angeles Times

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – In a setback for strained firefighters and a ravaged community, flames leaped a containment line Tuesday afternoon, threatening hundreds of homes only hours after residents had felt it was safe to return.

By evening, firefighters, including two who escaped death by temporarily using emergency shelters, had saved the neighborhood. But the episode was a grim reminder of how tentative progress can be when it comes to battling the massive, unpredictable walls of flame that have rapidly engulfed areas near this resort town since Sunday afternoon.

For most of Tuesday, the winds were calm. Then at about 3 p.m., the winds started whipping up the flames at the edge of the resort town, forcing frantic residents who had returned to their Gardner Mountain neighborhood to flee it yet again as thick orange smoke billowed through their streets.

“I was feeling good,” said Kate Tretheway, 35, who was evacuated from her home Sunday and again Tuesday as she was loading her pickup truck, calming a distraught neighbor, and fitting her young niece and nephew with smoke masks. “But not today, not with the wind.”

The flare up was caused by flying embers.

By Tuesday night, officials estimated that the blaze had consumed more than 3,000 acres and damaged or destroyed 225 structures, of which 178 were homes. They said the fire was 44 percent contained but progress was tentative.

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