Lake Tahoe faces what could be the worst disaster in its history. What’s at stake?

Even after 20 years of living at Lake Tahoe, it still takes Corey Rich’s breath away when he comes home. Rich is an adventure photographer, shooting at exotic locales all over the world, from the airless mountain peaks of Pakistan to the waterfalls of Chile. Doesn’t hold a candle to Tahoe, he says.

“Driving back into that basin and seeing that crystal blue water, that incredible granite, those beautiful trees, I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he said. “There’s something magical about seeing an entire alpine basin blanketed — just a carpet of green, lush as far as you can see.

“It’s a Disneyland for adults. There is nowhere else like it.”

He said this on Monday as he packed his car to evacuate with his wife, daughter and their dog. Rich lives in South Lake Tahoe, and he and everyone else in the 22,000-person town were ordered out as the flames of the voracious Caldor Fire licked through the forest toward their homes.

An evacuation line on Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe on Monday — 22,000 residents were ordered to leave because of the threat of the Caldor Fire.

Bronte Wittpenn/The Chronicle

As they chugged away, leaving behind a silent town that may or may not be there when they get back, just one thing seemed sure. Most wanted to return. And small wonder.

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