A NUMBER of South Lake Tahoe's 20,000 residents have ignored mandatory evacuation orders as a huge and devastating two-week-old fire creeps closer to city limits.
The Caldor Fire, which began on August 14, south of Pollock Pines in El Dorado County, prompted mass evacuations in the northern California city earlier this week and has so far burned more than 204,000 acres.
Over 3,500 firefighters have been deployed to combat the blaze, which is just 20 percent contained as of Wednesday morning.
As the fire continues to spread towards the Lake Tahoe area, it threatens to engulf more than 33,600 homes and businesses in its path.
Five people have already been hurt by the flames and 728 structures have been completely destroyed, according to CalFire.
'NOWHERE TO GO'
Fire officials issued mandatory evacuations in El Dorado and Alpine counties on Monday, affecting around 24,000 people.
A number of residents have, however, decided to stay put and take their chances with the inferno believing they have "nowhere else to go."
City spokeswoman Lindsey Baker reported that around 20 residents had refused to evacuate.
Among them was 66-year-old retiree Tod Johnson, who told the AP he'd be staying put until he sees "any flames anywhere."
"I'm trying to be here to help the firefighters," he explained.
Similarly, Bill Roberts said he had planned to leave South Lake Tahoe when the evacuation orders were first put in place but decided to postpone his trip because he was tired and his back was hurting.
He then said he delayed his decision to leave again when his cat ran off.
Now he plans to stay put "depending on what the wind does."
"I might become a little more mildly concerned today," he said on Tuesday. "But I'm hoping at some point I just nab that cat and be out of here like a shot."
RESIDENTS STAYING PUT
Other locals said they decided to stay because they felt they had nowhere to flee to, even though local officials have opened evacuations shelters on both sides of the California-Nevada state line.
David Duet, a homeless South Lake Tahoe resident, said he and half a dozen friends are currently camping out in a meadow because they "don't really have anywhere else to go."
He dismissed the idea of fleeing to nearby Carson City, saying his group didn't know anyone in the Nevada capital and declined a ride a stranger offered him Monday.
Duet said he and his friends are checking the internet and radio for updates on the fire and plan to ride bicycles out or catch a ride from someone if it gets really bad.
"No one's stupid enough to stay when the flames are right mounting around the outside of the meadow. So as long as the smoke isn't so bad and the flames aren't real close, we're going to stick it out, you know?" Duet said.
"But if not, we'll hightail it out. We'll get out."
The mandatory orders are typically enforced by local sheriff's offices, though it's unclear how often officials enforce the orders with threats of arrest.
Across Tuesday, firefighters spent hours trying to save as many homes as possible by keep the massive wall of flames at bay.
They were facing gusts of more than 35 miles per hour as the fire continues to move further into the Tahoe Basin.
'THE JEWEL OF CALIFORNIA'
At a popular Tahoe-area ski resort, staff used every tool they could find to protect the property – including snow-making machines.
Staff at Sierra-at-Tahoe spent days preparing to defend the 2,000-acre resort from the fast-moving flames.
The densely forested areas haven't seen significant wildfires in more than 80 years, NBC reports
"This one's really scary and I'm afraid it's going to burn down the jewel of California," Glen Naasz, an evacuee, told the network.
The Caldor Fire, whose cause remains under investigation, is one of 13 blazes currently active in California.
The largest, the Dixie Fire, has burned more than 800,000 acres since it broke out in mid-July and is the second-largest in the state's history.
This year's wildfire season has been devastating, with 1.76 million acres up in flames from 6,913 fires for far, Cal Fire said.
The US Forest Service has also announced the closure of all Californian national forests from late on Tuesday until 17 September because of the wildfires.
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