South Lake Tahoe, usually bustling now, is empty and choking on smoke from the Caldor Fire

Terell Wilkins
Reno Gazette Journal
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The smoky streets of South Lake Tahoe were mostly empty on Friday. 

The tourist destination usually welcomes throngs of visitors leading up to the Labor Day holiday. Instead, souvenir shops and restaurants were closed as the Caldor Fire continued to rage closer each day.

The fire began about 70 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe on August 14 and has grown to 143,941 acres as of Friday — it's just 12% contained. 

Its smoke has choked the region's skies ever since and is now about 12 miles away. On Thursday, evacuation warnings were issued for the nearby communities in Christmas Valley — the first warnings in the Lake Tahoe basin since the 2007 Angora Fire. 

On Friday, a day after tourism officials asked people to avoid South Lake Tahoe, any remaining tourists stayed inside and away from the smoke.

The smoke from the Caldor Fire burning nearby keeps tourist away at South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 27, 2021.

"Being closer to the state line, it’s all just pure tourism with everyone coming up here for casinos," said Breeana Cody, an employee at McP’s Taphouse Grill. "But everything is pretty vacant right now.”

Cody said it's been smoky for days on end. Ash has blanketed the area, too.

“September until the end of the year is pretty good but Labor Day weekend is really our big hurrah," Cody said.

With fewer customers, deciding who should work and when with less revenue coming in has also been a delicate balance for businesses in the area.

McP's Taphouse Grill employee Breeana Cody talks about how business has slowed down because of the Caldor Fire burning near the popular tourist destination of South Lake Tahoe on August 27, 2021. Concerts that would bring customers to McP's have been cancelled.

Cody said employees quitting has left McP's short-staffed.

"Obviously we don’t need it because of the volume right now," she said. "We’re not busy."

While surrounded by imposing 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, assistant manager at Black Bear Trading Co., a souvenir shop, said she worries about employees who are losing work. 

"It's just not enough to make ends meet," she said.

Nahani Sandoval, Black Bear Trading Co. Asst. Manager in South Lake Tahoe, talks about the effects of the Caldor Fire burning near the popular Stateline area on August 27, 2021.

Business owners near the commercial center of South Lake Tahoe said they were still optimistic the fire wouldn't advance into main business district along Highway 50. 

Andrés Delgadillo, co-owner of Los Mexicanos Mexican restaurant and Plaza Tapatia market, said he's still holding out hope that firefighters will prevent the fire from marching into the Lake Tahoe basin.

South Lake Tahoe business owner Andres Delgadillo expresses his thoughts on the Caldor Fire burning near South Lake Tahoe on August 27, 2021.

“But anything is possible," Delgadillo said. "The wind could get really nasty and then all those sparks could fly and ignite.”

Delgadillo said that as a resident of South Lake Tahoe for over three decades, the smoke and fires are difficult to deal with but are a part of living in the area.

For him, the beauty of Lake Tahoe is well worth the strain of dealing with fires.

"Everything is a risk, you come to the East Coast where they worry about hurricanes and all that stuff, it’s just something we have to deal with anywhere we are so we’ll live with it," Delgadillo said.

"I’ve been here for 35 years so I’m not going to go anywhere unless I have to.”

The smoke from the Caldor Fire burning nearby keeps tourist away at South Lake Tahoe on August 27, 2021.

Follow reporter Terell Wilkins on Twitter, @terelljwilkins, call him at 252-367-8463 or email him at

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