On August 14th, the Caldor Fire began near Little Mountain in El Dorado County, and by the 16th, it had grown to 764 acres. On the 31st of August, it has grown to 191,607 acres and has actively burned for 17 days. According to Cal Fire, only 16% of the blaze is contained and has destroyed 669 buildings in its path. Warm temperatures and high winds are literally fanning the flames as it consumes fuel, aka trees, at an alarming pace.
With Sierra at Tahoe ski area lying directly in its path, it was only a matter of time before the resort would have to fight for its life. The resort has turned to its snow guns in a do-or-die effort to save the resort. To save the buildings, snow guns have been positioned to continuously douse the buildings with water.
Miraculously, as of August 30th, their utilization of snow guns has worked. The buildings and lifts have been saved except for one maintenance building. Surviving this apocalyptic fire doesn’t mean the end of Sierra at Tahoe’s problems, however. There are questions that need to be answered in regards to the upcoming ski season.
The equipment shed that burned—was it holding valuable equipment vital to its ski operation? If it was housing its fleet of snowcats, that might be too big of a loss to overcome in this short amount of time before the start of the season. Do the fire-weakened trees pose a safety threat to skiers and riders? It’s certainly possible that a tree laden with heavy “Sierra Cement” would be more prone to falling on a nearby skier. And will they be able to clear trees that have already fallen?
The heroic efforts to save the resort cannot be understated. This ski area has a rich history dating back to 1946 when brothers Ray and Floyd Barrett built a tow rope and a Poma lift on Echo summit. The firefighters and employees at Sierra at Tahoe are the heroes in this Herculean task of preserving that history and enabling the resort to continue to do what it has always done.
With fire season in California seemingly worse every year, is this strategy going to become commonplace? How would that affect water reservoirs needed to make snow for ski season? Unfortunately, it seems this fire has left more questions than answers.