Charles Barkley reflects on Angora Fire relief ahead of ACC celebrity golf tournament
June 8, 2017
June 24 will mark the 10th anniversary of the tragic Angora Fire, which engulfed thousands of acres and destroyed more than 200 homes off Lake Tahoe's South Shore land.
Even when such a tremendous loss hits, there always seems to be a silver lining — the outpouring of support those in need receive, including from people they don't know.
When NBA hall-of-famer Charles Barkley came to play in the July 2007 American Century Championship (ACC) celebrity golf tournament shortly after the Angora Fire had grabbed national attention, he decided he needed to take action.
Barkley, a fan favorite who has competed in the annual ACC tournament since the '90s, toured the devastation with community members to get a first-hand account of what it was like to be caught in the blaze and view the aftermath.
The Tribune caught up with Barkley via a phone interview at Edgewood Tahoe's ACC media day on Tuesday, where he shared his thoughts about coming to town the year of the fire.
"I didn't think it was fair for us to come up there to golf, gamble and have fun when just a couple miles away that tragedy had just happened," said Barkley. "I wanted the people to know that we're not just having fun while they're suffering."
The fire, which was ignited by an illegal campfire that had been abandoned, ultimately destroyed 3,100 acres of forest and 254 homes before it was contained on July 2. There were a few injuries associated with the fire, but no lives were lost.
According to U.S. Forest Service estimates, total damages were over $140 million and approximately $11.7 million was used to contain the fire. There was also the economic hit that was taken from a decline in visitors during a normally bustling time of year.
Once Barkley had seen the extent of the damage to Angora and the other areas, he upped his initial donation to $100,000.
"I told them I wanted to make a sizeable contribution to the community," said Barkley. "They roll out the red carpet for us every single year and I appreciate that, but we can't just come up there and pretend like there wasn't something serious going on."
According to Cal Fire, 260 personnel from 13 fire engines were deployed to the area. Aside from his monetary contribution, Barkley also treated over 100 firefighters to dinner and drinks not long after the fire had been contained.
"The casino gave me a restaurant and [the firefighters] came in and got to blow off some steam," said Barkley. "I got to meet them and their families. I really admire anyone who has the courage to be a firefighter."
Not long after the donation was received, South Lake Tahoe's then mayor, Mike Weber, designated July 11 as Charles Barkley Day. Edgewood later installed a plaque at its course to honor Barkley for his generosity. In 2009, Barkley continued with his philanthropy by donating an additional $90,000 to relief efforts.
If any good came from the fire, it was that it highlighted the vulnerability of Lake Tahoe when it comes to wildfires, causing measures to be taken to help prepare for and prevent fires in the future. Community members have advocated for more use of AlertTahoe cameras that detect smoke and flames and the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team was created.
TFFT has been involved with ongoing fire safety in the area since Angora. As of last month, the team had treated 60,000 acres of the 117,000 that surround communities around the basin. Their efforts will continue into this year's fire season.
The Tahoe Resource Conservation District has been continuing to grow the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities program to create a strong relationship between fire protection districts and homeowners.
This year's ACC tournament returns to Edgewood Tahoe July 11 through 16. Barkley, a perennial long shot, will be competing alongside TV personalities, former athletes and other celebrities.