Wildfire smoke affecting Lake Tahoe sports | SierraSun.com

Wildfire smoke affecting Lake Tahoe sports

Sylas Wright

The sun rises through a smoky sky in Tahoe City on Friday. The poor air quality caused by Sierra wildfires has forced the cancellation of numerous sporting events.

The wildfire smoke blanketing the region is welcome like an angry yellow jacket. Perhaps less. At least the wasp can be swatted from the sky.

It's as if time rewound to 2008, when thick smoke from multiple lightning-caused fires on the Sierra's west slope put a damper on summer activity in the greater Lake Tahoe Basin.

The smoke was so prevalent that summer, several staple races in the area were canceled for health reasons, including the Western States Endurance Run and Donner Lake Triathlon. At times, the smoke cut visibility to less than a mile, with the southern shore of Donner Lake completely shrouded from sight from across the width of the lake.

While the Donner Lake Triathlon and Western States Endurance Run, and most other races, escaped the smoke this summer, the Lake Tahoe Triathlon and the Alpine 2 Squaw 10K Challenge this past weekend were not so lucky. Race organizers were forced to pull the plug on both events.

In addition to the race cancellations, high school football scrimmages from Tahoe to Fallon were scrapped due to the unhealthy air quality.

The Incline football team was scheduled to participate in a four-way scrimmage at North Tahoe with the Lakers, Portola (Calif.) and East Nicolaus (Calif.) on Friday. The scrimmage — more like a joint practice, said Incline coach Scott Conn — was moved from North Tahoe to East Nicolaus in the Sacramento Valley, where the skies were clear.

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The Highlanders are supposed to kick off their season Saturday with a nonleague game at Sierra Ridge in San Andreas, Calif. Conn said the game might be played at an alternative site near Sacramento, due to San Andreas' close proximity to the source of the smoke.

The smoky conditions — initially caused by the American fire near Foresthill, and now the massive Rim fire near Yosemite — could not come at a worse time for local athletes training for the Ironman Lake Tahoe triathlon. The grueling endurance race is right around the corner, Sept. 22, leaving area participants scrapping for training opportunities less than a month out.

"It is really bad timing," said Rob Kronkhyte of Tahoe City, who's set to compete in the Ironman triathlon next month. "It is really hard to train. Yesterday I drove down to Eagle Lakes to run, off of Highway 80. No smoke."

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Rim fire has charred more than 187,000 acres as of this writing, making it one of the largest wildfires in the state's recorded history — seventh, to be exact, and climbing. It was only 23 percent contained on Wednesday.

Yet all we can do is cross our fingers, wish the firefighters well and wait it out. The Rim fire will meet its end, hopefully sooner than later.

Speaking of reaching an end, summer is grinding to a halt, giving way to chilly evenings, shorter days and, most tellingly, another school year. But that's not all bad. Fall is awfully enjoyable itself — football, relaxed crowds, golden trees and the excitement of fresh turns to come.

Sylas Wright is the sports editor at the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. He may be reached at swright@sierrasun.com.