Alameda County fire: At least 18 dead in California blaze

Image copyright Alameda County Sheriff Image caption Part of a Lake Tahoe, California, house exploded after it was hit by a propane tank explosion © John Medlin/AP At least 16 people are feared dead…

Alameda County fire: At least 18 dead in California blaze

Image copyright Alameda County Sheriff Image caption Part of a Lake Tahoe, California, house exploded after it was hit by a propane tank explosion © John Medlin/AP

At least 16 people are feared dead in a wildfire near Lake Tahoe that has claimed eight homes and charred a huge area of land.

The blaze broke out on Sunday evening about 200 miles (320km) north of San Francisco and is now one of the largest in the state of California.

Dozens of people remain missing, California officials said.

A near-freezing temperature and a fire that is approaching containment lines have hampered fire crews’ efforts to control the flames.

Image copyright Seale Fire Department Image caption Firefighters have fought against the fire for days © John Medlin/AP

The fire is so big that it has generated its own weather patterns, with winds turning an already challenging task into “a real f***ing struggle”, California Fire Department said.

The blaze started as a prescribed burn but was not controlled, the state fire department said.

The inferno has caused authorities to evacuate 1,300 people from the wildfire’s path.

At least 55 buildings and three wineries have been destroyed.

At least eight families were believed to be homeless, and all but one of the bodies were in the heart of Lake Tahoe’s party town, said Tamara Higginson, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.

Image copyright Alameda County Sheriff Image caption At least six homes have been destroyed © Alameda County Sheriff

The fire is believed to have started near Highway 50, 20 miles east of Tahoe City. The cause is under investigation.

Eyewitnesses said power lines blew and the fire jumped the highway and down the road.

‘Powerline debris’

Aerial footage showed thick smoke and a large plume of black smoke rising out of the Lake Tahoe basin.

Tahoe City Fire Department said two departments had been deployed “to keep the fire off of main population areas”.

However, there was fear that the air quality might be a problem.

“We’re working on setting up stations in the area of heavy black smoke so that we can spread those folks out and get them away from heavy smoke,” Chief James Cullen, the city’s emergency operations director, told Reuters news agency.

Mt. Rose (photo courtesy of author)

The local newspaper, the Tahoe Daily Tribune, said the fire was fuelled by “a perfect storm of weather conditions”.

“It’s going to be quite a while before we really know what sparked the fire.”

The US Forest Service and the Lake Tahoe Interagency Fire Management team warned of gusty winds, near-zero humidity and warm temperatures on Monday and Tuesday.

Image copyright Alameda County Sheriff Image caption At least eight homes were destroyed © Alameda County Sheriff

A public information statement from the fire management team described the blaze as “pinpointed growth” and said it “now threatens active commercial properties, subdivisions, and homes on Highway 50”.

“The fire is expected to burn north into Steelhead Drive,” it said.

The Tahoe area attracts millions of tourists every year and surrounding California is the second largest U.S. state by tourism.

Over the years many fires have burnt through the area’s vast canyons, isolated by mountains and mountains.

Past fire activity for Tahoe is long-term and temporary effects on biodiversity of Lake Tahoe, NSF confirms. pic.twitter.com/y1hFLAs18i — NSF (@NSF) June 10, 2016

If the scale of the current blaze – which spans more than 16,000 acres (6,800 hectares) – is not enough, this one has joined the list of deadly fires in America’s West.

This fire is one of the largest recorded in the US west.

Image copyright Alameda County Sheriff Image caption At least eight people are feared dead © Alameda County Sheriff

The most destructive wildfire in California history killed 44 people and destroyed more than 8,000 homes in 2003.

That fire, known as the Cedar Fire, began near Mariposa County in April 2003.

Its cause remains unclear.

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