Smoke Shrouds Lake Tahoe Casinos as Major Fire Looms 

Posted on: August 25, 2021, 03:11h. 

Last updated on: August 25, 2021, 07:22h.

Tourists are taking shelter in casinos and other enclosed spaces as a massive fire inches toward Lake Tahoe, an alpine gambling destination straddling the California-Nevada border. California officials called it the No. 1 firefighting priority in the nation.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
A patron plays a slot machine on Tuesday at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Stateline, Nev. Smoke and ash from the nearby Caldor Fire created a gray haze visible outside the front glass doors. (Image: KVVU-TV)

By midweek, the blistering Caldor Fire was within 20 miles of South Lake Tahoe, blanketing the area with gray ash and dense smoke. Located in the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, the lake is home to several popular hotel casinos.

The blaze southwest of Lake Tahoe was only 11 percent contained by the middle of the week, having already scorched 184 square miles as it destroyed 455 California homes, according to the Associated Press. 

By Wednesday, authorities had not issued any evacuation orders. But public officials expressed concern about potential damage to structures at the lake. This comes as the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in California history, is burning about 65 miles to the north. 

“The fires that are raging all around us nearby are screaming this warning: Tahoe could be next,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif).

Top Firefighting Priority

Nationwide, 92 large fires are burning in a dozen states, according to the Associated Press. The Caldor Fire is not the largest of these. But since it is “knocking on the door” of Lake Tahoe, it is the nation’s No. 1 firefighting priority, said Thom Porter, California’s state fire chief.

As the blaze continued burning through timberland on Wednesday, parts of Lake Tahoe were experiencing the nation’s worst air pollution. The area is hitting the “hazardous” category of the Air Quality Index, the Associated Press reported.

In Reno, about 60 miles to the east, schools have been closed for two days because of air quality issues. This has required 67,000 students to remain at home. Hazardous air also had tourists seeking refuge in Lake Tahoe casinos, restaurants, and other indoor sites.

At the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Stateline, Nev., some gamblers didn’t seem too worried about the blaze, the Associated Press reported.

Ramona Trejo said she and her husband were going to stick with their plan to stay at the South Shore resort for their 50th wedding anniversary. Her husband wanted to continue gambling.

Because of respiratory problems, Trejo uses supplemental oxygen.

“I would want to go now,” she said.

Movie Stars and Mobsters

Lake Tahoe has a long history as a playground for gamblers, celebrities, and outdoor enthusiasts. Several major sporting events have been held at the lake, including the 1960 Winter Olympics and a recent NHL regular-season ice hockey game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche.

During the early 1960s, Frank Sinatra was part owner of the Cal-Neva Lodge at Crystal Bay on the North Shore. Among the politicians and celebrities who visited the lodge when he owned it was fellow Rat Pack entertainers and screen star Marilyn Monroe.

Sinatra forfeited his license at the now-shuttered Cal-Neva after Chicago Outfit boss Sam Giancana visited his girlfriend, singer Phyllis McGuire, at the resort. Because of his underworld affiliation, Giancana was in the state Black Book, banning him from entering any Nevada casino.