UC Davis webinar discusses affects, dangers of wildfire smoke

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — When the skies are covered in thick smoke it’s not only eerie and apocalyptic but is dangerous to your health.

UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center hosted a webinar on Thursday, Oct. 29, “Impacts of Wildfire Smoke on Human Health,” which featured Dr. Kent Pinkerton, a professor in the department of anatomy, physiology and cell biology, school of veterinary medicine, department of pediatrics and school of medicine at UC Davis.

Pinkerton says there is a concern for those who are essential workers and have to work outside, especially those in the agriculture industry. He says it’s best for everyone to stay inside when the air quality is poor because smoke not only affects older adults with underlying health conditions, but young healthy individuals. Animals can also be negatively affected from particles.

Burning vegetation, building materials and other objects create fine organic and inorganic particles that make up smoke. This summer the heavy smoke in the basin from the effects of the fires burning all over the west from Southern California to Washington.

“The number and severity of wildfires are increasing,” Pinkerton said.

Not only do particles harm the lungs but Pinkerton says that gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, dioxins and volatile carbons can also affect an individual’s health.

However, if you are not directly near the fire, particles are of the greatest concern.

Pinkerton says it’s important to stay informed about the air quality index, which measures the value of air quality. The AQI ranges from good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-300), very unhealthy (201-300), and hazardous (301-500). People who are at a substantially higher risk include those who work outdoors with lung disease, heart disease and diabetes along with older adults, children or pregnant women.

He said that smoke causes several different symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath, scratchy throat, headaches and irritated sinus which all sound like pretty ominous symptoms during these times. Other immediate symptoms include stinging eyes, running nose, phlegm, wheezing, fast heartbeat, tiredness and asthma attacks. In extreme cases, it can cause premature death.

Pinkerton says that while they have less information about cumulative exposure, “We are beginning to see an increase in emergency room visits and hospitalizations that are occurring [related to air quality].”

If you have smoke inhalation symptoms and they persist, Pinkerton suggests getting medical attention.

“Air with elevated quantities of fine particulate matter, such as smoke, has an overall negative health effect on everyone,” said Dr. Matthew Wonnacott, chief medical officer at Barton Health. “Poor air quality generally worsens underlying health conditions, especially for those with respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.”

While older adults, pregnant women, children and individuals with pre-existing heart and respiratory conditions are most at risk for getting sick from wildfire smoke, young healthy individuals are also at risk.

Nancy Williams, El Dorado County health officer, said that the more exposure someone has to smoke, the more damage that can occur to the lungs and all people should take precautions.

“People with COPD, asthma or an active infection may find themselves in a worse situation,” Williams said. “It’s important to protect ourselves.”

Not only is the smoke causing physical symptoms, but Wonnacott says that it could potentially affect mental health as well.

“Smoke may increase the development or progression of many mental health disorders, including anxiety, depressed mood, bipolar disorder, and psychosis,” he said.

While it’s unknown if smoke causes more susceptibility to contracting COVID-19, Wonnacott says, “Air pollution and smoke cause an inflammatory response in the body’s airway, and COVID-19 has been shown to increase inflammation as well.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, wildfire smoke can make the body more prone to lung infections due to irritation and inflammation of the lungs while also affecting the body’s immune system. Lung infections include SARS-CoV-2 which is the same virus that causes COVID-19.

“While it’s unknown if air quality increases susceptibility to getting COVID, we know patient health outcomes worsened by the virus can be impacted by other respiratory stressors such as poor air quality,” Wonnacott said.

Not only is poor air quality bad for humans, but pets as well.

Neil Powell, Blue Lake Animal Care Center veterinarian, says that smoke definitely affects pets.

“I definitely recommend pets, especially older or sensitive pets, or those with underlying respiratory conditions, avoid being outside excessively during high smoke/ash conditions,” Powell said.

He said that smoke can cause nasal congestion, red irritated eyes and a cough in pets.

“The smoke and ash can irritate mucous membranes. Encouraging plenty of water consumption can help moisten the tissue and minimize irritation,” said Powell. “I also think keeping their face clean from settled smoke/ash can be beneficial.”

He also said that when there is smoke present having air purifiers and giving your dog a regular bath can also help.

To stay safe when the skies are filled in a cloud of smoke, health officials recommend following local advisories and staying indoors with windows and doors shut when told to do so.

Pinkerton also suggests getting a N95 mask which provides the minimum protection for wildfire particles and some gases.

“They can block 98-99% of the particles in the air,” he said.

He stressed the importance of using the masks correctly and making sure they fit properly.

Another recommendation is to set air conditioners in the home and car to recirculation mode when air quality is bad.

“Avoiding going outdoors in smoky conditions or poor air quality lessens one’s health risks; however, if you do leave your home, following COVID-19 protocols and wearing a face mask also helps decrease the level of inhaled particulates and lessens the smoke’s impact on the respiratory system or other medical conditions,” Wannacott said.

Pandemic creates shift towards backcountry sports

When the pandemic hit Lake Tahoe last spring, most businesses closed, including ski resorts.

Many were upset, frustrated and confused to have the season cut short, especially with feet of new snow in the forecast.

However, along with snowmobilers and snowshoers, many avid skiers and riders turned to human-powered ways of getting their turns in on the mountain. Sales for backcountry equipment has skyrocketed and local shops are seeing a new wave of people wanting to get their hands on gear.

Lee Collins, owner of TahoeLab Boards, specializes in hand-making splitboards. Lee says that this summer they have worked more than ever crafting boards, specifically split boards. He says that personally he has seen a 30-50% increase in people interested in backcountry setups. Collins says that he’s even had trouble getting backcountry bindings and skins from dealers who are seeing this increase nationally and across the ocean to Europe.

While the influx connects more people to the real outdoors and nature, it also comes with additional pressure on land and resources, safety precautions and ensuring that the backcountry community remains strong.

People who are new to the backcountry and those experienced will both have to adapt to more populated recreation areas, more crowded trailheads and they also might have to search a little bit harder for untouched powder.

With the influx of people new to backcountry sports, outdoor education is dire.

David Reichel, executive director for Sierra Avalanche Center who previously taught wilderness education courses at Lake Tahoe Community College, says that the classes in the past would fill up the same day they opened.

“It was the busiest I’ve ever seen it in the spring,” he said.

Reichel said he’s been talking to guides who are saying people are very interested in taking these courses.

The classes when offered by a guide service can end up being very costly but LTCC makes these expensive classes more affordable.

While LTCC isn’t offering AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) classes for the fall, the classes will be available in winter term. But, Diane Lewis, marketing and communications director for LTCC, says the classes fill up very fast and those who want to register need to do so just as they open.

Dr. Clinton Culp is now the full-time faculty member in charge of the Wilderness Education & Outdoor Leadership program at LTCC and has redesigned the departments classes, certificates and marketing. In a typical winter quarter, LTCC usually serves about 150-250 students. Even with the COVID cancellations in March, it served 452 students last winter just in the wilderness education department.

Courses are imperative to understanding the basics of snow science and avalanche safety. In the 2019-20 season, there were 23 fatalities recorded from avalanches in the U.S.

“People need to get training somehow,” Reichel said and added there are different ways to get in the backcountry and it’s important to recognize the difference between snowshoeing on flat ground versus someone going down steep-terrain. “If you are going down steep terrain, you need training.”

Reichel said people need to be extra aware of situations that can be exacerbated with more people in the backcountry, including traversing above and below slopes. Also, people who are new to the backcountry might not know that they need to check avalanche and weather conditions.

“If we have an increase of people in the backcountry, it can cause more triggers,” he said. “It’s going to be an adjustment for experienced users.”

SAC is a resource that helps backcountry-goers understand the conditions and dangers by creating daily avalanche forecasts and observations. Before the pandemic shut down events last year, SAC had over 2,000 at their in-person awareness talks at shops and breweries.

Reichel said that he’s heard that there has been substantially more interest than normal but doesn’t believe all the courses are filled. Links to avalanche safety courses are available under the “Education” tab on SAC’s website. SAC even offers some scholarships towards classes.

SAC also offers free Motorized Level 1, Level 2, and rescue classes. Reichel said that before SAC started offering these classes, there were no opportunities for snowmobilers to acquire avalanche training in the Tahoe area.

Some backcountry enthusiasts are also worried about the upcoming winter season with the influx of people and the potential issues that may arise.

“You can have all the avalanche gear, but it doesn’t help if you don’t know how to use it,” Collins said.

He mentioned that another potential danger is people going further into zones that they don’t normally go to to escape the crowds which could cause problems for search and rescue efforts.

Todd Walton, executive director for Winter Wildlands Alliance, said that while there’s been a steady increase of people interested in backcountry sports for the last couple years, this year with the pandemic, that interest really sparked.

“With the pandemic, more people are getting outside,” he said. “The ultimate thing with all backcountry users is responsibility and all of us working together, looking out for each other. Beacons turn on at the car and turn off at the bar.”

Walton stresses that backcountry sports are not a “walk on a golf-course.” Along with the dangers associated with avalanches in the backcountry other factors that are associated with more people is the increase of trash, land-use and conflicts between people. Walton said that while it’s great that more people are connecting with the outdoors and investing in equipment that gives them more freedom, it’s a “double edged sword.”

Walton says that the increase can inflame issues in the outdoors and at trailheads with traffic congestion, trash and even human-waste. In an open letter he wrote from WWA, Walton delves into how this shift is putting pressure on our wildlands and each outdoorist must be responsible for their impact.

Walton writes, “Love the backcountry without loving it into oblivion.”

WWA recently launched their SkiKind campaign to promote a backcountry responsibility code to ensure responsibility, safety and kindness on and off the mountains. Walton says that as a “20 something backcountry skier” he believes it’s important to provide knowledge in a kind way to those who are new to the sport to keep the backcountry community strong, safe and working together.

“You were new once too,” he said.

He also wants to instill that public lands are all of ours to enjoy, but stressed the importance of being respectful stewards.

Another part of the SkiKind campaign promotes leaving no trace by packing out all trash, human-waste and dog waste to keep backcountry areas pristine.

Walton encourages people to get involved with WWA.

For more information on SAC visit https://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/.

For more information about WWA, visit https://winterwildlands.org/.

Celebrating spooky season around Lake Tahoe

As if 2020 isn’t spooky enough, Halloween is just around the corner. While this Halloween will be different, we still have several excuses to get dressed up and celebrate this spooky season around the Tahoe Basin.

For the first time since 1944, during World War II, stargazers can witness the rare blue moon on Hallows Eve. Treat your eyes to this rare beauty that will have us all howling at the moon. Grab a loved one, a blanket, somes treats and head outside to witness the second full moon of the month that will light up the sky.

If you want to show off your costume (or your pet’s costume) here are some socially-distant events.


Trunk or Treat

Pick 6 Sports Bar and EJ’s Cafe is hosting ‘Trunk or Treat’ Halloween celebration. Starting at 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., on Halloween come by Pick 6’s back parking lot with your decorated vehicle trunk. Fill your trunk with candy so kids can treat-or-treat. The top three best decorated trunks win prizes. There will also be a free hot chocolate bar and popcorn for kids. Make sure to reserve your spot by calling 707-718-7318.

Hocus Pocus Viewing Party

Calling all adults 21 and older who love Hocus Pocus or just love Halloween. Come in costume ready to watch a Halloween favorite. From 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., The Brewery at Lake Tahoe is hosting a Hocus Pocus viewing party with $1 jello shots and a prize for best costume — Hocus Pocus themed costumes are highly encouraged — along with a special Halloween cocktail and appetizer menu.

Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Call 530-600-4141 for more information.

Howl-O-Ween Party

Don’t leave our four-legged friends out this Halloween, Earthwise Pet Lake Tahoe will be celebrating with their inaugural Howl-O-Ween Party. Dress Fido in a costume to win prizes.

Earthwise Pet will have free samples, raffles, discounts, a photo booth and more. The costume contest starts at 2:30 p.m. There will be a pet parade at the shopping center following the contest. Dogs must be kept on a leash, up-to-date on vaccinations and well-socialized. Also, be sure your dog is dressed safely and comfortably.

If you don’t have a pup don’t fret, cats are welcome as well. The event is outdoors, however social distancing is still encouraged and masks are required for humans. Get in contact by emailing laketahoe@earthwisepet.com to reserve your entry into the contest or register day of the event by 2 p.m.

Pet Costume Contest

The Coachman Hotel is having their inaugural pet costume contest. From 2-4 p.m., bring your houndy and show off their best outfit and for a chance to win a $100 gift card for Tahoe Best Friends. Each dog who enters receives a party gift-bag. There are bonus prizes for people that dress up with their pets. Happy Hour lasts all day and kids can join in on pumpkin carving. A tarot card reader will also be on site.

Funds raised from local keg and food sales go to support the Truckee Tahoe Humane Society. The event will be held on the lower and upper deck outside of the hotel.


Socially-Distanced Haunted Hotel

Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino will be transforming their second floor into a socially distanced haunted hotel for Halloween. Each guest room will be decorated with a different theme.

The haunted hotel will be open from 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. All ages are welcome, however, the Hyatt will ensure social distancing at checkpoints and staging areas. Hyatt will also provide Halloween-themed activities for overnight guests throughout the weekend.

Guests checking in on Friday, Oct. 30 or Saturday, Oct. 31, will receive “Squirmy S’mores” kits with gummy worms included and children will receive “Goblin Goodie Bags.” The resort will also feature a “Skeleton Scavenger Hunt” at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, and a complimentary “Witches Brew” hot apple cider available at the poolside fire pit at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The haunted hotel will raise food donations for Sierra Community House. While it is complimentary for overnight resort guests, non-resort guests must bring at least one food donation to participate. The organization is seeking healthy, non-perishable foods.

A list of Sierra Community House’s food donation guidelines can be found by visiting the following link: https://sierracommunityhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/FoodDonationGuidelines.pdf.

Reservations for the haunted hotel are required and are available by visiting: hyattregencylaketahoe.eventbrite.com.

Tahoe City Halloween Hunt

Tahoe City’s Parks and Recreation and Tahoe City Downtown Association have partnered to put on Tahoe City’s Spooktacular Scavenger Hunt. The hunt will start at noon on Oct. 30 and will run for 36 hours until the clock strikes midnight on Halloween.

The hunt will feature digital activity challenges around Tahoe City so break out your costume and take to downtown to safely explore the city to earn and track points via the Goosechase App (which is available on both Android and iPhone). Earn the most points to earn prizes for your team. Visit https://www.tcpud.org/tahoe-city-halloween-hunt for more info.

Follow these steps to join the hunt:

1. Download the Goosechase App to your phone

2. Find the “Tahoe City Halloween Hunt” game in Goosechase

3. Register your team

4. Start playing and complete as many challenges as possible

Drive Thru trick-or-treat

From 6-9 p.m., on Halloween take your trick-or-treaters to Christmas Tree Village in Incline for a drive-thru trick-or-treating experience.


Class A Roofing is hosting a family-friendly, pet-friendly Halloween celebration. From 2-7 p.m., the event will include a silent auction, wine wheelbarrow, sign artwork and live music by Jacked-Up band. At 5 p.m., there will be a pet costume contest. $10 entry fee includes first drink, $15 entry for a drink in a signature glass of beer and wine. The event will be at 876 Tanager St in Incline Village.

Halloween Show in the Beer Garden

Come get spooky with Alibi Ale Works – Incline Public House on Saturday night. They will be celebrating Halloween with an outdoor show in the beer garden. From 5-8 p.m., DJ Mr. D will be providing spooky tunes. The show will also feature Kandy Xander from Metal Echo along with performances by Tahoe Flow Arts. Make sure to dress for the occasion because there will be a costume contest with prizes.

This will be a $10 reserved seating socially distanced outdoor show. To make reservations please call 775-831-8300.

Overland hosting beef giveaway today; Taco sets still available

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Overland Meat & Seafood Company is hosting a free beef giveaway today for local residents and still has taco sets available.

Brian Cohen, owner of Overland, said they plan to give away 1,400 pounds of beef to the community. Overland staff put together 700 taco bags that included 2 pounds of ground beef, an onion, taco seasoning and tortillas.

They started giving out the taco kits at 10 a.m. but Cohen said this giveaway has been different than the two they had during the COVID-19 closure in spring. The store closes at 6 p.m.

“There was a lot more anxiety then, a lot more uncertainty,” he said.

Overland gave away just over 1,000 pounds of ground beef in about 1 hour and 40 minutes in April.

He said the morning was busy but since it’s been steady.

Raley’s donated the taco seasonings, Mission Tortillas donated tortillas, Safeway donated a portion of the onions and sold the rest below cost. Crystal Dairy also let Overland store the ground beef while they were preparing the kits over the last two weeks.

Cohen said they were fortunate to be busy all summer as an essential business but waited until the end of summer to have another giveaway because they wanted to make sure to give back to the locals.

“We saw the need that was there,” Cohen said. “And we still want to give back to the community.”

For more information, call Overland at 530-544-3204.

Local youth virtually build leadership, wilderness skills

Growing up in the Tahoe Basin means growing up close to nature and wilderness; however some teenagers don’t have the same opportunities to get out and explore. A program through the USDA Forest Service founded in 2008 called Generation Green offers high school students the experience to learn important career skills, leadership and confidence while in nature.

The program focuses on underserved communities around the basin and gives teens a chance to form a connection with nature in an all-inclusive, respectful work environment.

Usually the program is an 8-week long summer job where students can work and learn while being immersed in the forest and are mentored by forest service personnel.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the program had to adapt.

The Forest Service was faced with figuring out how to make a backcountry, ‘out in the field,’ program virtual. In response they created Generation Green 2020 Virtual Leadership Academy that took place in July.

The program was condensed to 2-weeks and moved to the virtual platform Zoom.

Students participated in professional development workshops on resume writing, basic job skills and public speaking. Students also completed essays and nature journals.

“One of the biggest things is for the students to connect with the land,” said Adilene Negrete, conservation education assistant for forest service.

She said they hope the students can enjoy the outdoors safely and be more confident in themselves.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit division included five students from South Tahoe High School; they usually have about 12 students. Specific to this year’s program, LTBMU partnered with neighboring forest regions which allowed students to connect with those from around different areas. Generation Green had 20 students in total this summer.

“It went a lot better than we were expecting,” said Negrete. “All the students were really engaged.”

The Tahoe Fund also annually supports the Generation Green program.

“Our mission is to use the power of philanthropy to improve the Lake Tahoe environment for all to enjoy,” said Amy Berry, CEO of the Tahoe Fund,in an email. “The ‘all to enjoy’ piece is important to us and Generation Green is a terrific program that addresses that. We’ve funded it for the past few years to ensure more kids can participate. With a private partner at the table, it helps the forest service secure the public funds and support needed to make it happen.”

Tahoe Fund purchased each of the students a pair of new hiking boots for completing the program.

“Tahoe Fund has helped us out for various years,” Negrete said.

Generation Green is aimed to help students excel personally, professionally and academically. 95% of students who were part of Generation Green have continued on to higher education. Six of the students who graduated are permanent forest service employees.

LTBMU hopes Generation Green can return to a regular 8-week program in 2021.