Caldor Fire Forces California Residents Into Shelters

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U.S.|For thousands who have fled the fires in Northern California, an anxious wait at shelter sites.

Evacuees from the Caldor fire in Placerville, Calif. on Thursday.
Credit...Ethan Swope/Associated Press

Livia Albeck-Ripka

  • Aug. 20, 2021, 4:35 p.m. ET

CAMERON PARK, Calif. — The Caldor fire was just a few miles from Kathy Elliot and John Niebuhr’s house in Pleasant Valley on Tuesday when the authorities came up their driveway and told them it was time to get out.

“We could see the flames,” Mr. Niebuhr, 66, said Friday as he sat outside an evacuation shelter in Cameron Park, 32 miles east of Sacramento, along with Ms. Elliot and their black German shepherd.

Ms. Elliot, 73, said they only had time to gather essentials and a few documents, not photographs or keepsakes, before they left. “When you’ve got an hour or two,” she added, “it goes by so fast.”

The couple, who have been sleeping in their car outside the shelter, are among more than 20,000 people subject to evacuation orders and warnings in El Dorado County, which is being thrashed by a fire that had consumed more than 73,000 acres of mainly forested terrain by Friday morning and was zero percent contained.

Many evacuees are staying with friends or relatives and anxiously awaiting news. Others are camped out on neighbors’ properties, in parking lots, or outside emergency shelters, some of which are filling rapidly.

“They’re all over,” said Tami Martin, a county liaison with the Red Cross at the Cameron Park shelter, a community center that was filled to capacity. Ms. Martin said there were about 70 evacuees there in all.

Inside, cots stood in lines in the center of the room, and donated clothing and other supplies were stacked to one side. The parking lot was packed with vehicles. Part of the neighboring street has been transformed into a makeshift campsite. Local residents visit the site to offer evacuees the use of a washing machine for laundry, or a cup of coffee.

“Most people are really upbeat, and just hanging in there,” said the Rev. Debra Sabino, an Episcopal priest from Placerville, about 15 miles east of Cameron Park, who has been taking grocery orders from evacuees camped outside the shelter. She has also helped rehouse an evacuee’s injured horse and found a home for nine chickens.

Ms. Sabino said political divisions ran deep in the region, but that the fire had “just brought everyone together.”

Michelle Soto said she had banded together with a few other Cameron Park residents to try to assist evacuees, knowing that she too could be in danger if the fire continues to spread. “We’re prepared,” Ms. Soto said.

Officials have warned that it could be days or weeks before evacuees like Ms. Elliot and Mr. Niebuhr are allowed to return home.

“You have to take it kind of day by day,” Mr. Niebuhr said. “As far as we know, our house is still standing.”

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