Smoke from the King Fire in California engulfed Lake Tahoe over the weekend. (YouTube/nvseismolab)

 

Just west of Lake Tahoe in California, the King Fire is burning with abandon. Video posted by the Nevada Seismological Lab shows how Sierra Nevada winds shifted in an instant, engulfing Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area with dangerous smoke.

The King Fire, which started on September 13, has now burned an area of more than 87,000 acres — larger than the cities of, say, Atlanta, Ga. or Las Vegas, Nev. As of Monday, the fire had burned 22 structures, and threatens another 21,000. Around 2,800 people in the area have been evacuated.

Location of the King Fire in California. (Weather Underground) Location of the King Fire in California. (Weather Underground)

On Saturday, winds started from the southeast, pushing smoke away from Lake Tahoe. By mid-afternoon, that had changed. Winds shifted out of the southwest, and then out of the west, pushing a plume of unhealthy air across the area.

The Ironman Lake Tahoe, which was scheduled for Sunday, was canceled due to poor air quality, sending thousands of athletes home unexpectedly. “We have been monitoring the air quality impacts from the King Fire on the event for several days, and have been reviewing near real time data from sensors located in Squaw Valley, Tahoe City, Kings Beach, and Truckee,” said Tom Christofk, Air Pollution Control Officer for Placer County. “The data from this morning indicates unsafe levels of air quality to commence the event.”

One of those disappointed athletes was Tom Kazukynas, who shared photos of the view from the ground on Twitter. When the organizers of the Ironman announce that it was canceled, athletes were crushed. “Racers fell into the sand crying, total disbelief on some faces and shock on others,” said Kazukynas in an email. “This Ironman is a once in a lifetime chance for many of the racers and to see the look of the athletes who just had it taken away by an act of arson was absolutely heartbreaking.”

Wayne Allen Huntsman, the man suspected of starting the King Fire blaze, was arrested on Thursday.


Smoke from the King Fire comes over the hills around Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe. “Within 10 minutes, all visibility was gone,” said Kazukynas. (Tom Kazukynas)

 

While Ironman organizers were aware of the threat from the King Fire, they were not expecting the smoke to shift over Lake Tahoe when it did. From the Ironman website:

Saturday’s initial projections from the King Fire had suggested that smoke and particulate matter would not impact the event on Sunday. However, fire behavior and wind patterns changed significantly on Saturday afternoon with air quality at Squaw Valley, Truckee, and Tahoe City deteriorating rapidly through the course of the evening.

Webcams on Lake Tahoe still show a smokey haze on Monday afternoon.