South Lake Tahoe is empty as the Caldor fire draws closer each day
The smoky streets of South Lake Tahoe were mostly empty on Friday.
The tourist destination typically receives crowds of visitors ahead of the Labor Day holiday. Instead, souvenir shops and restaurants were closed as the Caldor fire continued to rage every day.
The blaze started about 70 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe on August 14 and spread to 143,941 acres on Friday – it is only 12 percent contained.
Its smoke has since choked the skies over the region and is now about 12 miles away. Evacuation warnings were issued for neighboring Christmas Valley communities on Thursday – the first warnings in the Lake Tahoe basin since the Angora fire in 2007.
On Friday, a day after tourism officials asked people to avoid South Lake Tahoe, all remaining tourists stayed inside and away from the smoke.
“Being closer to the state border is just pure tourism with everyone coming here for the casinos,” said Breeana Cody, an employee of McP’s Taphouse Grill. “But everything is pretty vacant right now.”
Cody said it had been smoky for days. Ash also blanketed the area.
“September until the end of the year is pretty good, but Labor Day weekend is really our big hurray,” Cody said.
With fewer customers, deciding who should work and when with less income has also been a delicate balancing act for businesses in the region.
Cody said resigning employees have left McP’s understaffed.
“Obviously we don’t need it because of the volume right now,” she said. “We are not busy.”
Though surrounded by towering lakefront mansions and massive cabins, South Lake Tahoe is home to thousands of service workers. Many of them are seeing their hours cut, business owners said.
Nahani Sandoval, deputy manager of Black Bear Trading Co., a gift shop, said she worried about employees losing their jobs.
“It’s just not enough to make ends meet,” she said.
Business owners near the South Lake Tahoe Mall said they were still optimistic the fire would not spread to the main business district along Highway 50.
Andrés Delgadillo, co-owner of Mexican restaurant Los Mexicanos and Plaza Tapatia Market, said he still had hopes firefighters would prevent the blaze from spreading to the Lake Tahoe basin.
“But anything is possible,” said Delgadillo. “The wind could get really nasty and all those sparks could fly and ignite.”
Delgadillo said that as a resident of South Lake Tahoe for more than three decades, smoke and fires are difficult to deal with but are a part of life in the area.
For him, the beauty of Lake Tahoe is well worth dealing with the fires.
“Everything is a risk, you come to the east coast where they’re worried about hurricanes and all that, it’s just something that we have to deal with wherever we are, so we’re going to live with it,” Delgadillo said.
“I’ve been here 35 years, so I’m not going anywhere unless I have to.”
Follow reporter Terell Wilkins on Twitter, @terelljwilkins, call him at 252-367-8463 or email him at [email protected]