As a ferocious wildfire barreled toward Lake Tahoe, a vacation haven on the the California-Nevada state line, area ski resorts have joined the firefight, using snow-making machines to protect the cherished destinations of generations of Californians and others.
At the Heavenly Ski Resort, snow-making machines have been spraying the slopes, buildings and surrounding areas around the clock as the Caldor Fire approached. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jed Gaines said the moisture was “increasing the humidity level, it’s getting everything wet” so that if the fire starts climbing “it’s able to slow it down.”
Heavenly Resort straddles both California and Nevada, and is renowned for its powder skiing and iconic lake views.
Over the weekend, staffers at the Sierra-at-Tahoe resort blasted snow canons on the main structures and doused the grounds of the 2,000-acre resort as the wildfire pushed closer to the property. Still, the Caldor Fire roared through the resort on Monday, demolishing some buildings but leaving the main structures at the base intact.
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Sierra-at-Tahoe manager John Rice told the San Francisco Chronicle he credited the preparation efforts with helping to save the ski resort from major damage. The resort is beloved for its “certified unserious” vibe and lower-cost season passes that have made it popular for parents who want to teach their kids to ski or snowboard.
Firefighters reported progress Wednesday in the battle to save communities on the south end of Lake Tahoe from the approaching forest fire after the stiff winds and searing temperatures they had feared failed to materialize in the California-Nevada alpine region.
“We lucked out a little bit yesterday with some of the winds that didn’t come up quite as hard as we expected them to," Tim Ernst, Cal Fire operations section chief, told firefighters in a morning briefing.
Ernst said that one of their "biggest concerns" was the Kirkwood area, which includes the popular Kirkwood Mountain Resort located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Tahoe. He said keeping the fire out of the resort will be one of the biggest priorities Wednesday.
Kirkwood, which along with Heavenly is owned by Vail Resorts, announced in a Facebook post that its snow-making systems are also up and running to protect the resort and surrounding areas.
The fire, which broke out on Aug. 14, has scorched nearly 320 square miles and has destroyed at least 700 homes and other structures, but officials say it's too early for an accurate assessment of the destruction. The blaze is threatening at least 33,000 more homes and structures. It was 20% contained.
More than 15,000 firefighters, with help from out-of-state crews, were battling dozens of California blazes, including another monstrous blaze in the same area.
The Dixie Fire is the second-largest wildfire in state history at 1,320 square miles (3,415 square kilometers). The weeks-old fire was burning about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the Lake Tahoe-area blaze and prompted new evacuation orders and warnings this week.