By Kelly McCleary and Alta Spells, CNN
Firefighters in California made significant progress against the Caldor Fire over the weekend, allowing for some evacuation orders in the Lake Tahoe region to be downgraded. But as residents there began to breathe a sigh of relief, three new fires ignited in the state Sunday, according to Cal Fire.
Evacuation orders for the city of South Lake Tahoe were downgraded to evacuation warnings, nearly a week after thousands in the resort town clogged roadways when officials told them get out because flames were racing into the area.
Other parts of El Dorado County saw their evacuation orders downgraded to a warning Saturday while other warnings were lifted, according to Cal Fire.
The areas of Fallen Leaf Lake, Christmas Valley, Meyers and North Upper Truckee remain under an evacuation order.
Across the state border in Nevada, mandatory evacuations in Douglas County were downgraded to precautionary evacuations Saturday, according to an announcement on the county’s website, opening the door for some residents there to return home.
As of Monday morning, the Caldor Fire had consumed 216,358 acres near the California-Nevada border. The flames are 44% contained about three weeks after it started on August 14, Cal Fire said.
While still massive, the Caldor Fire’s growth slowed over the weekend, adding just 842 acres in a 24-hour period between Friday night and Saturday night, according to CNN’s analysis of fire information. That’s a far cry from its explosive start, when the fire grew to nearly 100,000 acres in its first week.
High temperatures ahead
Saturday night, fire behavior in the Caldor Fire’s East Zone was “minimal to moderate,” Cal Fire said in an update Sunday evening.
“There is still much work to be done tying in dozer lines and holding along the south and southeast flank of the fire above Caples Lake. However so far, firefighters are making good progress,” the report said.
As firefighters measure their progress, they are also keeping an eye on the forecast as another heat wave is shaping up for this week.
Nearly 25 million in California, Nevada, and Arizona will experience temperatures up to 20 degrees above average, meaning the region could see 105 to 115 degrees, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. The majority of the heat will impact the desert Southwest.
At the same time, a red flag warning is in effect for portions of central Oregon and central northern California on Tuesday, meaning conditions will be optimal for fire to spread, Guy said.
In the meantime, fire officials urged those returning to their homes to do so safely and keep an eye on updates.
“Repopulation consists of complex coordination between, fire, law enforcement, public works, and utilities to ensure the safety of residents and fire responders alike,” Cal Fire said.
The Caldor Fire has destroyed more than 900 structures since it began, including homes, business and other buildings, Cal Fire said. More than 27,000 structures are threatened.
Progress accompanied by new fires
As fire officials recorded progress in the Caldor Fire, three new wildfires popped up in California Sunday.
In Amador County, near where the Caldor Fire is burning, the Lawrence Fire exploded to 46 acres, burning grass, brush and timber, Cal Fire said.
The fire prompted brief road closures and evacuations as it threatened a handful of structures, but firefighters were able to quickly mitigate the threat. The Lawrence Fire was 60% contained Monday.
Farther north in Placer County, the Bridge Fire burned 300 acres with 5% containment as of Monday. Cal Fire noted evacuations are in progress.
Overall, California has tallied 7,099 fire incidents in 2021 as the state suffers through a brutal fire season made worse by climate change that is fueling a grueling drought and high temperatures.
More than 1.9 million acres have burned in the state this year, according to Cal Fire. A large chunk of that comes from the Dixie Fire, which has scorched 910,495 acres across five counties in Northern California since it began on July 14. It is currently 57% contained, Cal Fire said Monday.
Nationally, 81 large wildfires are currently burning across 2.8 million acres, the National Interagency Fire Center said. Idaho has 20 fires and Montana has 19. Large swaths of the two states were under red flag warnings on Monday, according to the National Weather Service, due to gusty winds and relative low humidity in the region.
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CNN’s Michael Guy, Deanna Hackney and Keith Allen contributed to this report.