Ski resorts at California’s Lake Tahoe are using snowmaking machines to battle the raging Caldor Fire instead of bulking up their slopes in what may be a quintessential symbol of climate change.
Heavenly, Kirkwood and the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resorts are using the equipment to soak down buildings and land, and even fight flames, as the Caldor Fire threatens the town of South Lake Tahoe. Thousands have fled the area amid mandatory evacuations.
“Anything that gets moisture in the air is good,” CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said of the firefighting strategy.
Snowmaking machines mix compressed air and water in a powerful torrent. In winter, the snow guns “shoot water into the air and it condensates and turns into snow,” Ward pointed out. “In this case, it was just to attempt to get things wet.”
Sierra-at-Tahoe had its machines ready to go and mobilized them as the flames crept closer this week.
“We had them in place preventatively and we had a snowmaking system all charged up and ready to go,” general manager John Rice told The Tahoe Daily Tribune. “As the fire … started coming toward us, we turned them on.”
The resort lost a maintenance building to the flames.
Cal Fire has set up a base camp at Heavenly.
“Our snowmaking systems are up and running at Heavenly working hard to protect the resort and the surrounding areas,” said a message posted on the ski resort’s Instagram account.
The resort is making grants available to people in the area under mandatory evacuation — and is “prioritizing food, shelter, and mental health support,” the message added. “We also continue to thank those people on the front lines fighting to keep us all safe,” it read.
The Caldor Fire grew to almost 211,000 acres and was 27% contained as of Thursday. There was “reduced activity” Wednesday because winds were finally calmer.
The blaze has destroyed some 622 homes and has threatened over 32,000 structures, Cal Fire reported.
More than 15,000 firefighters are battling dozens of blazes in the state. The U.S. Forest Service has shut down all national forests in California until Sept. 17 as a precaution.
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