Wildfire smoke affecting Lake Tahoe sports | SierraSun.com

Wildfire smoke affecting Lake Tahoe sports

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.
Courtesy Lauren Tapia |

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 Truckee football team was scheduled to participate in a four-way scrimmage in Reno with North Valleys, Wooster and Lassen on Friday, while North Tahoe was supposed to host a scrimmage with Incline, Portola and East Nicolaus (Calif.). Both were called off. The Lakers might face the same reality this Saturday, as they are scheduled to kick off their season at home against Pyramid Lake. Coach Scott Everist said a decision whether or not to play the game will likely be made by Friday afternoon.

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 some 180,000 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 20 percent contained on Tuesday.

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, colorful leaves 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.

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