Updated: Oct 8, 2021
As many of you know, I live in South Lake Tahoe, and I have called the Sierra my home for many years. As I write this blog, I have been evacuated for several days as the Caldor fire, which started in El Dorado County outside of Placerville, marched eastward to South Lake Tahoe, and is now poised to cross the Nevada line.
I am not the first to be evacuated because of fire, and I won't be the last. But as I sit in a hotel room in Reno waiting to see the outcome, several things have become clear. It appears the heroic effort of firefighters has herded the fire away from the South Shore community with no loss of buildings (not one). For this, my community and I are forever grateful. But something is changed.
Massive fires in California and the West have become the new normal. According to the National Incident Command Center there are approximately 86 fires in the western states. The Caldor fire is not even the biggest in the West or California. That honor goes to the Dixie fire to the north, with over eight hundred thousand acres burned and still burning. These fires and the downwind smoke they bring in magnitude and frequency are changing tourism in California and the West. The trend of major fires in California, not just in the Sierra but all over the state, is staggering. It is not unusual for millions of acres to be burned every fire season. According to Calfire, 1.8 million acres have burned in California by August 31, and we are not even into the official fire season. At the state level the fire season is changing tourism in California, specifically the way the rest of the world perceives the California and the likelihood of fire and smoke which impacts consumer decisions to visit as well as changes the demand pattern for visitation as consumers look to avoid the potential fire season. Its also important to realize its not just the location of the fire but the flow and impact of smoke on other destination that are downwind of the fire that are affected.
But the devastation goes far beyond the tourism impact and the economic impact from major resorts to the smallest local business. But it is the devastation and disruption of the local community as they witness the possibility of their world go up in unrelenting and ferocious flames.
I spent the first night of my evacuation hunkered down with members of my community in a Red Cross evacuation center. I, like everyone else, took a cot and a blanket on the gym floor of a community center. As the night progressed, individuals and families began to arrive, heeding the evacuation orders rolling out of South Shore. Seeing them with exhaustion in their eyes, young kids who were frightened and scared. Parents living month to month on service industry paychecks, wondering what will happen next to them. Will their home and belongings be destroyed by an unrelenting beast of a fire. Them not knowing how will they recover? How will they take care of their family?
Fire is an ugly business and it’s getting worse. The experts say it’s a combination of climate change, diseased trees and unmanaged forests that have been that way for decades. Whatever it is the environmental, economic, and human cost is not sustainable. The only question is what’s next?