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Blaze near Lake Tahoe 'spots' across fire line

Story Highlights

• Wildfire near Lake Tahoe has destroyed at least 276 homes and buildings
• Fire officials: More than 3,100 acres charred; fire is 40 percent contained
• Forest Service official says wildfire caused by humans, unsure if deliberate
• Lieutenant governor declares a state of emergency for the area
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (CNN) -- Wind gusts on Tuesday breathed new life into a wildfire near Lake Tahoe, causing it to "spot" across a fire line and threaten new buildings, a fire official said.

"We're going to attack those spots and get lines around those and not let them develop any further," said Capt. Chuck Dickson of California Interagency Firefighters Team 1. "That's what our game is."

The stronger winds caused sparks to ignite across Highway 89 and set at least one house on fire, Dickson said.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for several South Tahoe neighborhoods, police said. About 250 homes and about 2,000 people were evacuated.

The Angora fire has destroyed at least 276 homes and buildings south of Lake Tahoe since it began Sunday afternoon, and another 1,000 structures were still at risk, according to Henry Renteria, director of California's Office of Emergency Services. (Watch how the Lake Tahoe fire is being called 'the worst in years' Video)

The fire -- which has charred 3,100 acres -- was 40 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon. Fire officials said they hoped for full containment by Sunday. (See the wildfire's hot spots)

In all, 1,889 firefighters, aided by seven helicopters and more than 100 fire engines, were involved in the effort, Dickson said.

Two minor injuries have been reported -- one Monday and one Tuesday, officials said.

Two U.S. Forest Service firefighters were trapped by the blaze. They had a fire tent with them and found a green meadow to pitch it in, officials said. The firefighters were not injured, but would likely have died if not for their fire tent, officials said.

Calm winds on Monday and earlier Tuesday helped firefighters attack the blaze, but gusts exceeding 30 mph were forecast for Thursday into Friday.

The National Weather Service has issued a smoke advisory, warning people that there is a thick layer of ash in the air making it extremely difficult to see and breathe.

Human activity started fire, official says

The fire -- burning just west of the town of Meyers -- was caused by human activity, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes. However, he said, it isn't known whether the blaze was deliberately set or if it started accidentally -- for example, by children playing with matches or a discarded cigarette.

Jackie Faike, an information officer with the U.S. Forest Service, said, "It looks suspicious."

California declared a state of emergency for El Dorado County on Monday, freeing state funds for fighting the blaze and repairing infrastructure.

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who signed the declaration, called the fire a "wake-up call" for homeowners to obey a state law that requires a 100-foot "defensible space" between their homes and wildlands.

"If you're not doing that, you're running a risk for yourself, and you're running a risk for the firefighters that might come to protect that home," he said.

Garamendi said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was receiving hourly briefings on the fire during his official visit to Europe and has pledged all state support needed to fight the flames.

Wind gusts of up to 30 mph spread sparks Sunday afternoon, when the blaze grew from 700 acres to 2,000 in the space of three hours. Capt. Scott Swift of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District told the Los Angeles Times many of the homes were lost in the first half hour.

Many evacuating residents had to flee on foot, taking just what they could carry, said Lt. Kevin House, spokesman for the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.

Andrea and Hector Hernandez lost their home of 10 years. Hector stayed until the last minute in an effort to save his home, but it got too hot too fast and rescuers ordered him to leave. (Watch couple's reaction when they see fire has destroyed their home Video)

The couple was in shock after seeing the destruction; nothing but a heater was left behind by the blaze.

"That's your safe zone and now you don't have a safe zone," Andrea Hernandez said. "We're just kind of in limbo, so that's pretty hard right there, just not being able to come home."


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Fire consumes trees and vegetation overnight Monday near Lake Tahoe, California.

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