RENO – A rapidly growing wildfire in northern California, south of Lake Tahoe, forced the evacuation of a mountain town and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada, leaving thousands of riders and spectators stranded Saturday and rushing to flee the area.
The Tamarack Fire, which sat at an estimated 500 acres as of Friday night, has grown to over 6,600 acres and closed multiple highways in the area, according to the Alpine County Sheriff's Office.
The fire is located near Markleeville and Pleasant Valley, and mandatory evacuation orders were in place for Markleeville, Grover’s Hot Springs Park and Campground, Shay Creek, Markleeville Village and East Fork Resort.
Thousands of firefighters battling blazes:Wildfires continue to scorch West with no letup in sight
According to Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest officials, the fire is active on all flanks and exhibiting high rates of spread as it burns timber and bush. It has destroyed at least 3 structures, authorities said.
A notice posted on the website for the 103-mile Death Ride cycling race said the event was cancelled and ordered all riders to evacuate immediately.
Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near the town Friday so her husband could participate in his ninth ride when they were told to pack up and leave. They had been watching smoke develop over the course of the day, but were caught off guard by the fire’s quick spread.
"It happened so fast," Pennington said. "We left our tents, hammock and some foods, but we got most of our things, shoved our two kids in the car and left."
Saturday’s ride was supposed to mark the 40th anniversary of the Death Ride, which attracts thousands of cyclists to the region each year to ride through three mountain passes in the so-called California Alps.
Meanwhile, the largest wildfire in the U.S. – burning in southern Oregon – grew significantly overnight as dry and windy conditions took hold in the area, but containment of the inferno more than tripled as firefighters gained more control along its western flank, authorities said Saturday.
The fire was still burning rapidly along its southern and eastern flanks, however, and authorities expanded evacuations in a largely rural area of lakes and wildlife refuges.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have swept the region, making wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Firefighters said in July they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall.
There are 70 active large fires and complexes of multiple fires that have burned nearly 1,659 square miles in the U.S., the National Interagency Fire Center said. The U.S. Forest Service said at least 16 major fires were burning in the Pacific Northwest alone.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow reporter Terell Wilkins on Twitter, @terelljwilkins.