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Residents with local ties cope with Lake Tahoe fires

MARSHALL — Wildfires in the Lake Tahoe area hit close to home for Mike and Joni Taylor.

They live in Reno, Nevada, a short distance north of Lake Tahoe. On the opposite south side, residents were evacuated as fires threatened their homes.

About 43,000 people were evacuated mostly without advance warnings, according to media reports. The fires, known as the Caldor Fire, broke out on Aug. 14 and later advanced to within three miles of the town of South Lake Tahoe.

“We have friends who evacuated,” Joni Taylor said. “The Reno area did a lot to help the evacuees. They were grateful to have a safe place to stay.”

She said many people provided evacuees with free lodging. Efforts were also made to find pet care in the event that someone’s motel did not admit pets.

The fire activity peaked a week ago. Firefighting efforts combined with a timely rain have since then brought the fire to about 65 percent containment. It’s likely to burn until the end of September.

An estimated 10,000 people still hadn’t been able to return home as of mid-week. South Lake Tahoe was still almost like a ghost town during what would normally have been a busy last phase of its tourist season.

Fire crews stopped the wildfire just short of a major mountain resort. Snowmakers were used to hose down buildings, and the world famous Heavenly Mountain ski area was used as a firefighting staging site.

A total of about 1,000 structures were lost in a fire area that measured about 218,000 acres, close to half the total number of acres in Lyon County.

“We’ve started to expect fire dangers during the fire season,” Joni said. “It’s gotten worse in the last few years. This is our worst year ever.”

She said air quality in Reno was a health hazard for most of the summer due to wildfires that burned before the Caldor Fire. It was necessary to wear face masks to go from their house to their cars.

Mike and Joni have lived in Reno since 2007. Mike is a 1987 graduate of Marshall High School, and they lived in Marshall in 2005-2006 after getting married. At the time, Mike worked for US Bancorp and Joni was employed at The Bike Shop.

They previously lived in the Palo Alto area near San Francisco. After living in Marshall, they moved to Massachusetts for about a year before settling in the Reno area. They’ve spent most of their careers in the bicycling and bike racing business.

Even with destructive fire seasons, they’ve only had momentary thoughts about moving again to a different area of the country.

“A week ago I was halfway thinking that maybe we should move,” Joni said. “After several days of clear skies we definitely want to stay. We live in a great location with a nice outdoor lifestyle. The nice days make it worth dealing with fire seasons.”

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