Year in review: The most read stories of 2021
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – It’s hard to remember anything that happened before or after the fire season. While COVID-19 still dominated the news in early 2021, as vaccines became more readily available the community was preparing to have a more “normal” summer.
However, on July 4, the Tamarack Fire started and while it didn’t threaten the South Lake Tahoe community, it did cause the basin to fill with smoke.
Then, in August, the Caldor Fire caused the summer season to come to a screeching halt. On August 29, South Lake Tahoe residents were forced to evacuate and the fire swept through the Meyers and Christmas Valley neighborhoods. Shortly after, with the fire’s path still uncertain, neighborhoods on the Nevada side joined the evacuated.
While the fires tested our resilience, it also showed the strength of community as residents and businesses came together to support fire responders and aid those who were forced out of their homes.
There is a lot to learn from this past year and much to look forward to in 2022.
Here is a look back at the most read stories in 2021.
The Caldor Fire started on August 14 in Grizzly Flats and quickly spread throughout El Dorado County.
Only a week later, on August 21, the fire had grown to 82,444 acres, had destroyed 245 structures, and put 15,000 in danger.
“Due to very dry receptive fuel beds, the vegetation is igniting easily throughout the fire area,” said a Cal Fire statement. “The increase of relative humidity allowed for firing operations to help strengthen control and containment lines. With historic drought conditions there is heavy dead and down fuels throughout the fire area.”
The USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region was forced to close nine national forests to better provide public and firefighter safety.The closed national forests included Modoc, Klamath, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Lassen, Mendocino, Plumas, Shasta-Trinity, Six Rivers and Tahoe.
The fire wasn’t fully contained until October 21, more than two months after it started.
While fire crews originally thought the fire could never jump Echo Summit into the basin, it defied expectations and raged through Meyers and Christmas Valley.
Aggressive firefighting, led by Lake Valley Fire Protection District and years of preventative measures put in place by the district saved the residents of Christmas Valley.
As evacuation orders were coming down, district staff got their families out of the area then immediately returned to the fire station. Every single staff member of LVFPD, including support staff, was staffing the station during the fight.
“We have a good fire department and it shows. Our town is here, I don’t need to say a whole lot outside of that, our actions showed,” Fire Chief Brad Zlendick said.
Fire season was made worse by drought conditions, as California entered its third year of drought.
In July, Lake Tahoe was at a little over 1.5 feet above its natural rim and was expected to drop below its natural rim, which it did in October.
The low lake levels were concerning for fire risk and for lack of water for bears and over wildlife. It also allowed for rotting algae to appear on the lake’s beaches.
Not long after the lake dropped below its rim, a historic storm took Lake Tahoe by surprise.
Heavy rain and snow starting falling October 22 which caused schools and highways to close.
“We are witnessing a record breaking October precipitation event based on data from Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL stations in Tahoe and Truckee basins as well as National Weather Service valley weather observation stations,” NRCS Hydrologist Jeff Anderson told the Tribune.
A 72-hour history chart on the NWS website, South Lake Tahoe received 6.37 inches of precipitation between Oct. 23-25. The area received 4.89 inches on Sunday alone, which is a new record for the area. Looking back to 2000, the closest the area came to that mark was 3.74 inches on Oct. 24, 2010.
The housing market is almost always a hot topic for Tahoe locals. The pandemic allowed many people to work from home, so since employees weren’t tied to a specific area, they flocked to the basin.
The influx of residents have caused inventory to drop and house prices to rise.
In March 2021, local real estate agent Deb Howard told the Tribune the median home price was $673,000, which was a huge jump from the median home price at the same time the previous year, which was $435,000.
Housing continued being a topic of conversation throughout the whole year. The City of South Lake Tahoe is partnering with Landing Locals to help open up the existing stock of real estate to the low to middle income.
The Lakeside Inn & Casino was one of the first casualties of the pandemic in April of 2020. Luckily, the building didn’t need to sit empty for too long.
In May, Barton Health purchased the site for $13.3 million.
“Our Community Health Needs Assessments continue to identify access to care as a top priority for our community,” said Barton Health President and CEO Dr. Clint Purvance in the statement. “As we outgrow our South Lake Tahoe campus, expanding services at Stateline not only meets our strategic growth goals, but allows us to increase access to patients on the East Shore.”
They will be demolishing the existing building and are taking a survey of what the residents would like the building to be used for.
Avalanches in the winter and wildfires in the summer are common natural disasters that Tahoe locals worry about. A series of earthquakes in April and May gave Basin residents a new thing to stress over.
Lake Tahoe sits on three fault lines but University of Nevada, Reno Seismological Laboratory Director Dr. Graham Kent said earthquakes on those fault lines are not very common.
The series of quakes led officials to ask if this could be foreshocks to a larger earthquake. The energy in the Sierra granite doesn’t dissipate in the same way, for example, broken up rocks would in the Bay Area, and the West Shore is long overdue for a rupture event, Kent said.
Luckily, the Basin survived another year without experiencing “the big one.”
The old elementary school site in Incline Village, sat empty for more than a decade but the site received a lot of attention this year as the TTD moved forward with purchasing it.
The Tribune followed the saga with a series of articles about the outspoken residents who fought against TTD purchasing the site from Washoe County School Distict.
TTD is considering the site for a mobility hub, but many residents and community leaders felt the location was unsafe.
Despite those few loud voices, TTD went through with the purchase and WCSD approved the sale.
The story is far from over. In 2022, TTD will conduct a site analysis to determine if the location does make a suitable place for the mobility hub.
Between the pandemic and the fires, there was plenty of bad news this year but a non-profits effort to clean Lake Tahoe provided a light in the dark.
Clean Up the Lake embarked on their effort to remove trash from Lake Tahoe’s 72-mile shoreline.
Windy conditions, smoke and snow storms delayed the project but they were able to persevere. By mid-November, 44 miles of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline had been removed of more than 21,000 pieces of trash weighing 18,000 pounds.
Divers will continue the project into early 2022. Dry-suit certified divers are excited to get out there and keep cleaning.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.