It’s 9:30 a.m., and the Mill Creek fire has been raging for two hours. Already more than 400 vacation homes in Incline Village, a resort town on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, have been evacuated, and an additional 1,100 houses need to be cleared in the next few hours. Volunteers in fire-resistant yellow shirts knock on the doors of million-dollar mansions, alerting homeowners that they need to leave—now. National Guard soldiers in Humvees patrol the streets to prevent looting. Overhead, a twin-rotor Chinook helicopter, one of four copters on the scene, banks a slow turn and drops 2,000 gallons of water on a plume of purple smoke.
Mike Brown, chief of the North Lake Tahoe Fire District, watches the helicopter and then points to a pink ribbon hanging from a deck railing. Green means the homeowners have evacuated. Pink means they’ve chosen not to.