Casinos Close as Wildfire Nears South Lake Tahoe  

Posted on: September 2, 2021, 02:15h. 

Last updated on: September 2, 2021, 02:44h.

The gaming floors at the major casinos on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore were closed this week as a raging wildfire inched to within three miles of the mostly vacated lakeside communities.

Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort
A chair lift at Sierra-at-Tahoe resort sits empty amid flames from the Caldor Fire. By midweek, the blaze was within three miles of South Lake Tahoe. (Image: Business Insider)

With smoke and ash from the Caldor Fire shrouding the lake, the major casinos were closed to the public. However, the resorts continued to shelter firefighters and some evacuees and employees in hotel rooms.

The major resorts on the South Shore are Hard Rock Lake Tahoe, MontBleu Resort, Harrah’s, and Harveys Lake Tahoe. These resorts, located in Stateline, Nevada, have a combined 2,200 guest rooms. At the Hard Rock, the gaming floor is closed, but the property’s website indicates slot machines are open and available to play.

Casinos dot the Nevada side of the alpine lake, from Crystal Bay on the North Shore to Stateline, about 26 miles away on the South Shore. The largest casinos are on the South Shore. 

Normally, with the Labor Day weekend approaching, the freshwater lake straddling the California-Nevada border would be crowded with outdoor enthusiasts and with gamblers at casinos along the shore. 

The Caldor Fire has altered the usual Labor Day activities at the lake, forcing thousand of residents and tourists to evacuate. Highways leading out of the area have been packed with departing vehicles. Many evacuees were headed to Carson City, the state capital, about 20 miles to the east of the high-altitude lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Homes Destroyed

By midweek, calmer winds aided the firefighters working to keep the blaze from engulfing homes and businesses on the South Shore.

Jim Dudley, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the winds were expected to subside over the next few days, according to the Associated Press.

Finally, some good news on the weather side of things here on this fire,” he said.

Until recently, strong winds have fanned the massive fire, which began Aug. 14 southwest of Lake Tahoe. The Caldor Fire has scorched 320 square miles of California dry woodlands and brittle terrain. The fire is named for a street in El Dorado County, where it started. The origin of the fire remains under investigation.

In its blistering march toward Lake Tahoe, the fire has destroyed 700 homes and other buildings. At least 33,000 more homes and structures are threatened. The fire on Thursday was 25 percent contained. 

Although the winds were expected to calm down for a few days, Dudley said the current low humidity means the fire risk remains high.

Henry Herrera, a Cal Fire battalion chief, noted that the blaze was only three miles from the California lakeside city of South Lake Tahoe, the Associated Press reported. By midweek, the fire was moving northeast toward the California-Nevada state line, Herrera said.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” he said. “The fire is still moving.”

Warmer, Drier West

Across California, at least 15,000 firefighters are battling dozens of large fires, including the Dixie Fire north of Lake Tahoe, according to the Associated Press. The Dixie Fire is the second-largest in the state’s history, having already scorched 1,320 square miles.

Throughout the West, more than 90 wildfires are burning in a dozen states. Scientists say climate change during the last 30 years has made the West warmer and drier, leading to more fires, the Associated Press reported.