Three Californian ski resorts in the path of a devastating forest fire appear to have escaped the worst of the dramatic blaze although some equipment and outbuildings have been fire damaged.
The Caldor fire, which began in mid-August, covered more than 200,000 acres and strong winds drove it towards the major resort-town of South Lake Tahoe located on the California/Nevada border. It is located directly below Heavenly Mountain Resort and a full evacuation was ordered when smoke made it difficult for inhabitants to breathe.
The fire also pushed towards the boundary of a third ski area, Kirkwood.
All three areas have, so far, suffered minimal damage, thanks to huge efforts by more than 4,000 fire fighters and other neighbouring communities which sent manpower and heavy equipment to create fire breaks. There have been no reports of any fatalities.
All three resorts prepared as far as they could for the arrival of the fire, by pointing snowmaking cannons at buildings and lifts to douse them in water as the fire approached.
Firefighters also used infrared-capable helicopters to drop water at night for the first time in Northern California.
The combination of building fire breaks and soaking the ground, buildings and foliage with water ahead of the blaze helped reduce the scale of the disaster.
News footage from Sierra at Tahoe appears to show the resort’s base buildings and 10 chairlifts intact. However, a vehicle maintenance shed which from the charred remains appears to have housed a number of slope grooming tractors was burned to the ground. Some ski runs also suffered fire damage.
Local resident, Mike Frye, has had a long association with the Lake Tahoe area. He is a former ski instructor who also became director of skier services at Kirkwood. He said: “We live just outside the current evacuation area but there’s a lot of ash raining on us and the air quality is scary bad. In fact, it’s off the scale!
“There’s a 10,500 ft mountain called Job’s Peak across the road from our home and at times it has been completely hidden by the smoke.
“The fire is close to both Kirkwood and Heavenly. Heavenly has been running its snow making equipment to keep all the vegetation moist.
“It’s such a shame for local tourism in the area as it has been crazy busy. Before the fire and evacuation, most hotels were having a record year despite covid.”
Kirkwood and Heavenly are both run by Vail Resorts issued a statement which said: “While protecting our resort is important, it is our people that are our top priority. We’ve made direct grants available for those currently under an extended mandatory evacuation and are prioritising food, shelter, and mental health support. We also continue to thank those people on the front lines fighting to keep us all safe.”
A statement on Friday from Kirkwood seemed to indicate they are hopefully past the worst. It said: “While Kirkwood remains under threat, changing weather conditions, lighter winds, and the amazing progress made by firefighting personnel and our snowmaking teams have led to improved conditions for the coming days. We are cautiously optimistic and deeply grateful to everyone on the ground helping to keep us safe and protect the community we call home.”
Fire photos courtesy of Jeff Hall/Calfire
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