Fires cause cancellation of Western States 100 |

Fires cause cancellation of Western States 100

Steve Yingling

The proliferation of Northern California wildfires and unhealthy air quality caused organizers to cancel the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run on Wednesday night.

Race officials gathered twice on Wednesday before deciding the fate of the race, which was scheduled to begin Saturday morning at Squaw Valley and end in Placer High School in Auburn. Tim Twietmeyer, Western States board president, and Greg Soderlund, race director, posted a letter announcing the race’s cancellation on the race’s Web site late Wednesday evening.

“The Board of Trustees of the Western States Endurance Run has consulted with many of our local and state race partners, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Placer County Air Pollution Control District, in coming to this decision. We apologize to our runners for any inconvenience this decision has created,” read part of the letter.

In addition to the poor air quality caused by hundreds of wildfires in the northern California, race organizers were concerned for the safety of the runners and volunteers with two fires within range of reaching the Western States trail.

There was concern that the Westville Fire could reach the Foresthill Divide Road by the weekend and there was a possibility that the Peavine Fire could spread to Mosquito Ridge Road and Last Chance, limiting access in and out of those areas.

“This is uncharted territory for us,” said the race’s media relations director John Trent, adding that the 100-mile endurance race was rerouted in 1995 and 1998 because of excessive snow on the trails. “Our people are pretty tough, but this is something new.”

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Twietmeyer and Greg Soderlund had the runners’ welfare in mind in their decision as well.

“For 35 years, the Western States 100 has been predicated on our runners’ safety,” they stated in their online letter. “As stewards of the race, the Western States Board has always recognized that running 100 miles over snow, through high elevations, into infernal canyons and through the dark of night can pose great challenges for even the most skilled of runners. Couple the challenging nature of our run with the existing combination of close proximity of wildfire, potential volatile fire activity that could cut off key access points to the course, as well as some of the most unhealthy air the region has seen this decade, and the decision was made in recognition of our preeminent goal – the safety of our runners.”

An air-quality advisory has already been issued by Placer County Air Pollution Control District officials after taking readings that were the worst in 10 years. Air quality specialists were urging people to limit their exposure to the polluted air and to avoid vigorous outdoor activities. In Auburn, where the race concludes, pollution levels on Wednesday were at 350 micrograms – 10 times an amount that is considered a high level of pollution.

Jamie Frink, a 1990 South Tahoe High graduate now living in Folsom, remained hopeful that the race would go when contacted on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s all I’ve done for the last six months: eat, sleep, drink and train,” she said. “I’m extremely hopeful that things will change and it’s going to go on.”

Frink got hooked on ultrarunning after the birth of her second child in 2006 and Saturday was going to be her first attempt at completing the Western States 100.

The Western States 100 has become one of the more popular ultraruns in the world and is a fourth of the so-called “Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.” The others are the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run and the Leadville Trail 100.

– Sylas Wright of the Sierra Sun contributed to this story.