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Winds worry firefighters near Lake Tahoe

Story Highlights

• NEW: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to tour fire area Wednesday
• Fire threatens almost 1,000 homes, U.S. Forest Service says
• Winds expected to kick up Wednesday afternoon in fire area
• Wildfire near Lake Tahoe has destroyed at least 176 homes, damaged 26
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (CNN) -- Firefighters battling a blaze near Lake Tahoe used Wednesday morning to douse hot spots and catch their breath, but the blaze was expected to flare up again as winds increased throughout the afternoon.

One firefighter told CNN the break was like "the calm before the storm."

Containment remained at 44 percent. (Watch residents flee as the wildfire moves in their direction Video)

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials planned to tour burned areas in and around South Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, then brief reporters.

Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for El Dorado County, which freed state funds for firefighting and repairing infrastructure.

Firefighters planned to make a stand Wednesday at California Highway 89 to prevent the Angora fire from advancing into more populated neighborhoods, a spokesman at the command center said.

Firefighters don't want the blaze to move north and east of the highway, Timothy Evans said.

Evans said the anticipated afternoon winds are "not a help to our firefighting efforts because we do not have a contained line around the perimeter of the fire yet."

Jackie Faike, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said 950 homes and 350 other structures are threatened by the fire.

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

Some residents had only minutes to evacuate.

Joe Dahila rushed home to rescue his dogs.

"We have the doors shut because of the smoke. We don't want them breathing in the smoke, so if something happened, they can't get out of the house. We don't have a dog door," he said.

Three days after it began, the Angora fire had destroyed 176 homes south of Lake Tahoe and damaged 26, Faike said Wednesday.

Firefighters have been setting backfires to control the blaze, but it was able to jump one fire line Tuesday. (Watch firefighters battle to keep the blaze away from houses Video)

Two U.S. Forest Service firefighters were trapped by the blaze on Tuesday. They had a fire tent with them and found a meadow to pitch it in, officials said.

They were rescued unharmed about 20 minutes later, Evans said, but they likely would have died if not for their shelter, which reflects heat.

He said the fire's boundaries Wednesday morning were east of Fallen Leaf Lake, south of South Lake Tahoe, north of Lower Echo Lake and about a mile west of Highway 89. (See the wildfire's hot spots)

The fire has charred 3,100 acres since it began Sunday afternoon, said Capt. Chuck Dickson of the Interagency Firefighters Team 1.

Earlier, Dickson said about 1,900 firefighters, aided by seven helicopters and more than 100 fire engines, were battling the blaze. Containment remained at 44 percent Wednesday morning, he said.

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.

CNN's Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.

A helicopter drops water on the Angora fire as it approaches homes Tuesday in South Lake Tahoe, California.




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