Dead trees from the Caldor Fire continue to be harvested. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It took 69 days to contain the Caldor Fire.

How many years, if ever, will it take for the forest to recover? For people to heal? For Grizzly Flats to be rebuilt?

It’s been nearly two years since the inferno was reportedly started at the hands of target shooters. The Aug. 14, 2021, blaze charred 221,835 acres in El Dorado, Alpine and Amador counties, and reduced 1,005 structures to ash.

Charred trees reach for the heavens to no avail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

CalFire lists it as the 16th most destructive fire in the state’s history, to date.

It cost more than $1 billion to extinguish.

Stands of dead trees still show how dense the forest was. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Last month I drove through a large swath of the burn area for the first time. I went along Highway 88 west before turning right on Mormon Emigrant Trail and ending up on Highway 50 in Pollock Pines.

I had already driven through the scar along Highway 50. Plus, I’ve biked and hiked areas of it on the South Shore.

The scar from the Caldor Fire goes on for miles. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

But this latest excursion, well, it literally made my stomach ache. At times I was surrounded by the devastation in a way that differed from my other experiences. I think it had to do with the views—how far I could see the denuded landscape.

The other experiences I felt more closed in. So, while I was immersed in charred terrain, I didn’t feel the enormity of it.

It’s hard to escape the devastation while driving on Mormon Emigrant Trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This drive was even more different than descending into the basin from Echo Summit, where the reality of how close the South Shore came to being rubble is evident.

I was alone on this drive. Hardly any other cars were out. It was eerie. It was sad. It was almost overwhelming.

Looking west toward Lake Tahoe, so much land was ravaged by the Caldor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I felt like I had to be there, though; to stop at times not just to take photos, but to engage as many of my senses as possible.

I kept driving. An overwhelming sense of sadness washed over me. I felt so small.

Fire. It’s so incredibly powerful.

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