Smoke from California wildfire hits Tahoe economy during summer rush


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Fed up with bad fishing in the Sacramento Valley, river guide JD Richey sold his house a few years ago in Sacramento and its river boats.

He bought a $ 50,000 boat on the lake, a $ 461,000 house in South Lake Tahoe, and started a charter fishing business to take clients fishing for trout and Kokanee salmon swimming in the clear blue waters of the Lake Tahoe.

He was about to start booking clients, and then the pandemic hit. Fishing was not considered an essential activity, so he had to stop guiding for months.

Things were just starting to change this summer. He had a constant flow of customers. Then the fires broke out.

“Everything had gone really well until we got smoky,” he said. “It’s kind of like a zombie apocalypse up there.”

Now all of the lake’s boat launches are closed and Richey is once again refusing customers. The smoke was so thick he couldn’t see the island on Emerald Bay, when he recently drove his family to Auburn to stay with his parents for a while.

“You can’t barely see your hand in front of your face,” he said.

Covered in smoke and ash – and facing the possibility of future evacuations – the encroachment of the Caldor fire has turned Tahoe’s South Shore into a ghost town.

Highway 50 closed, cutting off the main access road to Sacramento and the Bay Area. Nearby parks have been closed as ashes fall from the sky; outdoor concerts and other events have been postponed or canceled. Just a week before Labor Day, tourist boards and hotel managers are telling people to stay away for the second time in as many years.

“It’s getting pretty quiet here,” said Carol Chaplin, who heads the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

The Lake Tahoe Unified School District in South Lake Tahoe has postponed the opening of the school year by one week until September 7.

Air quality was incredibly poor across most of El Dorado County on Friday. Readings at Sly Park, near the starting point of the fire, reached nearly 1,348 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index before dropping significantly.

Venturing out in such bad air one day is like trying to breathe in a desert sandstorm, said Dr Kent Pinkerton, director of the Center for Health and the Environment at UC Davis.

The air quality in South Lake Tahoe recorded 160. Better than the previous reading in Sly Park, but still incredibly dangerous.

“We know that an AQI above 151 is already unhealthy for all individuals,” Pinkerton said. “It should be enough of a clue that shutting down the community is really in everyone’s best interest.”

Tahoe area beaches, hotels and parks are closed

Given the smoke and other concerns, the tourism authority announced Thursday evening that it “recommends that visitors postpone any plans for immediate travel to the region until further notice.” Some hotels did the same.

The Coachman Hotel in South Lake Tahoe said on its website, “We advise those who are considering traveling here to do other plans. … Our cancellation policy remains flexible.

The Azure Hotel, also in South Lake Tahoe, was trying to call the people who booked to get them to stay at home. As of Friday, only eight of the hotel’s 99 rooms were occupied – and four of those rooms were occupied by helicopter mechanics and medical personnel involved in the shooting.

“The beaches are closed; all water activities are closed, ”said a front desk employee. “The quality of our air is really bad.

Emerald Bay of Lake Tahoe is shrouded in smoke from the Caldor fire, near South Lake Tahoe, Calif., On Tuesday, August 24, 2021. The massive, over a week old wildfire burned over more of 190 square miles (492 square kilometers) and destroyed hundreds of homes since August 14. It is now within 20 miles of Lake Tahoe. (AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli) Rich Pedroncelli PA

Many Tahoe area parks have closed, including Bliss State Park, Emerald Bay State Park, Donner Memorial State Park, and the various campgrounds, hiking trails, and other recreation areas operated by the Forest Service in the Tahoe Basin. .

The closures, which include all of northern California’s national forests, extend at least until Labor Day weekend. Those who disobey the Forest Service’s shutdown order face fines of up to $ 5,000 for venturing into the woods. A similar shutdown order last September remained in place for almost two weeks.

At the same time, some of the ski resorts open in the summer have also closed, such as Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe. Other equipment is also affected. The MS Dixie, a 500-passenger paddle-wheel cruise ship that departs from Zephyr Cove, Nevada, has canceled all trips until September 6.

Postponed, Canceled Events in Tahoe Area

Among the events disrupted by the fire was the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run, which was canceled for the second year in a row (last year’s race was abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

“Although we are all devastated to miss the race this year, our thoughts are with the communities affected by the fire, the many people who lost their homes and their livelihoods,” the race organizers said in an article. on Facebook.

Country musicians Eric Church and Dierks Bentley have postponed concerts planned for the open-air hall at Harveys Casino in Stateline, Nevada. Rock band Phish have moved two shows, slated for early next week, from Harveys to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View.

Comedian David Spade’s Saturday night show at the Montbleu Casino – which was originally scheduled to take place in March 2020 but has been postponed due to COVID-19 – has been postponed to 2022.

The fire arrived at Tahoe’s Gate as tourism rebounded strongly from pre-pandemic figures.

“We had a great summer… 2019 levels and up,” said Chaplin. “It was really, really strong.”

Ana Arneodo, supervisor at Tahoe Sports Ltd. in South Lake, said business has been booming since the start of the pandemic.

Waves of tourists have fled to Tahoe to escape blockages and wealthy people have bought houses, and they have a lot of money to spend on sports equipment like bikes, boards, hiking gear, and snowboarding gear. ski that the local company sells, she said.

However, business has definitely slowed this week.

“It’s an outdoor recreation town, and, yes, that doesn’t happen because of the air and the forest service as well,” she said. “So even if they wanted to hike they couldn’t because it’s closed.”

Ramona Trejo plays a slot machine at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. Trejo and other hotel guests plan to stay in the Lake Tahoe area despite the smoke from Caldor’s Fire encroachment. (AP Photo / Sam Metz) Sam Metz PA

Ryan Sabalow covers environment, general and business news, and investigative stories for McClatchy’s Western Newspapers. Prior to joining The Bee in 2015, he was a reporter for The Auburn Journal, The Redding Record Searchlight and The Indianapolis Star.

Profile Image of Dale Kasler

Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, the economy and the convoluted California water world. It also covers Big Business Stories for McClatchy’s Western Newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.

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