1992 Eldorado National Forest Wildfire
The Cleveland Fire began on a hot and breezy Fall afternoon. A small five-foot diameter fire was reported at noon on September 29 in the vicinity of the Cleveland Corral Visitor Information Station, eight miles east of Pollock Pines.
Within seven minutes of the report, two Forest Service helicopters, a fire engine, and a hand crew were at the fire and the fire was already 15 acres in size. Four minutes later the fire was estimated at 75 acres in size, spreading in the crowns of the trees and creating spot fires 1/4 mile away.
The Cleveland fire burned aggressively for the first three days, burning 4,500 acres the first day and almost 14,000 acres the second day. On the third day, tragedy struck and a fire retardant tanker plane crashed. Two pilots gave their lives that day while trying to stop the aggressively moving fire. Fortunately, after burning another 3,500 acres that day, it began to lightly rain in the evening. It was another 13 days before the fire was declared controlled, on October 14, 1992 at a total size of 22,485 acres. Half of the burned area was public land and the majority of the rest was private commercial timberland.
In all, some 5,300 firefighters and support personnel from over 130 different cooperating agencies and groups worked on the fire. The fire was terribly costly. Besides the two lives lost and the millions of dollars of timber resources consumed in the fire, 41 dwellings and several outbuildings, and several pieces of logging and construction equipment were burned. In addition, the El Dorado Canal, supplying water to the local communities of Pollock Pines and Camino, was severely damaged. Highway 50, the main travel route to South Lake Tahoe, was closed for several weeks resulting in losses in regional economic revenue. The environmental costs were also tremendous. The fire killed almost all trees over most of the fire area, immediately removing wildlife habitat for forest dwelling animals and increasing the stress on fragile watersheds. The dramatic changes that occurred over the course of several days will be evident for over one hundred years.