California wildfire smoke affecting Lake Tahoe Basin |

California wildfire smoke affecting Lake Tahoe Basin

Sebastian Foltz
Firefighters stand guard as flames from the Butte Fire approach a containment line on Saturday, Sept. 12, in San Andreas, California. The Butte fire is one of three fires credited for bringing smoke to the Tahoe area.
AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli | AP

California’s busy wildfire season hit close to home last Sunday, Sept. 13, with substantial smoke from a number of California fires reaching the Tahoe Basin.

“It was one of the worst days I’ve seen,” said Lisa Herron, a long-time South Tahoe resident and U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist for the Lake Tahoe Basin. “Smoke was definitely worse than it was in Reno or Carson.”

She compared it to the 2013 Yosemite Rim Fire, which she said brought similar conditions to the area for roughly three weeks. “That’s what it looked like,” she added.

Area geography makes it possible for smoke to linger in the Tahoe Basin for longer periods. Fortunately for local residents, changing weather patterns and light rain helped to flush smoke from the area late Sunday and into Monday.

John Washington, Tahoe area Forest Service fuels officer, credited the Butte, Rough and Yosemite fires as likely contributors for Sunday’s smoke. West-southwest winds brought the smoke to the region.

As of Tuesday, the Butte fire — east of Jackson, Calif. — was listed as covering 71,000 acres and only 37-percent contained — up from 10 percent over the weekend. The Rough Fire — east of Fresno, Calif. — was reported as the state’s largest fire covering roughly 140,000 acres. Tuesday’s fire report described it as 40-percent contained. The Yosemite Fire was listed as roughly 500 acres and 70-percent contained.

While the Tahoe area is expected to remain relatively clear for the next few days, a high pressure system could bring smoke back over the weekend, according to Washington. But conditions could be subject to change.

“It all depends which way the wind is blowing,” Herron elaborated, saying it was too early to accurately predict.


As part of combating statewide fire efforts, three Bombardier CL415 “Super Scooper” fire-fighting aircrafts are currently operating out of the South Lake Tahoe Airport. Kevin Merrill, national amphibious aircraft manager for the Forest Service, said the planes were most recently called on to assist with the Butte Fire, as well as the Lumpkin fire — north of Sacramento. Each turbine-powered aircraft is capable of picking up and delivering 1,621 gallons of water to a fire.

In an interview with the Tribune Monday, Tahoe deputy forest supervisor Mike LeFevre described incorporating the planes into West Coast fire fighting efforts as a relatively new idea.

“They’re typically used in the north (Canada) and the Midwest around the Great Lakes,” LeFevre said.

All three planes are scheduled to be based out of Tahoe for the remainder of the fire season.

A crew of California Conservation Corps members are also among local efforts to aid in the wildfire fight. Twelve men and women based out of the group’s South Lake Tahoe center are providing logistical support to Cal Fire at the Lake County Fairgrounds as part of work to control the Valley Fire.

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